The UK government took some supportive positions over India, and there were some critical words on Pakistan
A subtle shift in the United Kingdom’s position on Kashmir appears to have been lost amidst the din of the argument last week – over the UK parliament debate on Kashmir. The British government pointed to Pakistan with a little more emphasis than before.
The broad statement of position was more of the same: Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Amanda Milling said replying to the debate, “The Government takes the situation in Kashmir very seriously, but it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political solution, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to act as a mediator.”
In that statement, the governments of India and Pakistan have long read what they wish to. India sees it as supportive of its position against any mediation from outside. In the reference to the “wishes of the Kashmiri people”, Pakistan reads plebiscite, to which the Indian response is that those wishes have been expressed often in elections within the Indian state.
A principal difference was the context in which Milling placed the Kashmir issue – and that was a context that pointed very firmly to India’s growing importance to the UK given its new focus on the Indo-Pacific region.
“The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Indo-Pacific region is a priority for the UK, as global Britain tilts towards growth opportunities of the future,” Milling said in her opening remarks. “Our integrated review provides a strategic framework for us to deliver our ambitions. We are working with our partners in the region to strengthen mutual prosperity and support regional stability.”
That focus still allows for concerns over human rights, she said. “The UK Government also committed in the integrated review to be a force for good in the world, and to drive global efforts to increase people’s freedoms, security, and living standards,” she said. “As a force for good, we promote open societies, the rule of law and respect for human rights and media freedoms.”
Milling mentioned the large Indian and Pakistani diaspora in the UK of about 1.6 million each. “Members across the House have mentioned the communities in their constituencies,” she noted. The Pakistani community have been mobilised with particular vigour to lobby their MPs, and a number of them duly spoke critically against India over Kashmir.
Ties With India
After noting the presence of the diaspora, Milling resumed focus on India.
“We have a strong and growing relationship with India,” she said. “In May, our Prime Ministers launched the 2030 road map for India-UK future relations. The road map sets out our joint vision to re-energise trade and investment and the technological links between our people, improving their lives and livelihoods. It demonstrates our commitment to enhance regional defence and security co-operation across the Indo-Pacific region and highlights how we bring our strength to bear to advance clean energy and health.”
She added: “Through the ambitious road map, we have elevated the India-UK relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership.”
Turning finally to human rights in Kashmir, the UK minister spoke of concerns that had arisen on both the Indian and the Pakistani sides of Kashmir.
“We recognise that there are human rights concerns both in India-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir,” she said. “The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights documented some of those concerns in reports in 2018 and 2019; UN special rapporteurs set out others in letters sent to the Government of India earlier this year.” The UK government, she said, had “raised our concerns with the Governments of India and Pakistan”.
Over Kashmir in India, she said “we voiced our concern when the Indian Government introduced restrictions on assembly and communications in India-administered Kashmir in August 2019, and we are pleased that the vast majority have since been relaxed.” She said the UK “welcomed reports that many of those who were detained have been released, but we understand that a number of political detainees remain. We call on the Government of India to ensure that they are released as soon as possible.”
She ended with raising concerns over the position in Pakistan. “We continue to urge the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the rights of all citizens as laid down in the constitution of Pakistan and in accordance with international standards.”
There the debate ended, but not before considerably supportive positions taken over India, and some critical words on Pakistan.