Kashmir

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:17 pm on 19th January 2017.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East 1:17 pm, 19th January 2017

It is a tragedy in some ways that we are still here debating this issue, although I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee and hon. Members for securing the debate. Here we are again—I think it is a couple of years since we had a substantive discussion of this matter.

As we heard from my hon. Friend Imran Hussain, it is 70 years since the partitioning of the region, where Britain, of course, had an integral responsibility and role. It is for that reason that we cannot wash our hands of this problem, just ignore it or sweep it under the carpet. The UK has a long-standing duty and responsibility to take an interest and to be involved in this issue.

We have heard, of course, about the United Nations resolution and the call for a plebiscite to solve the issue, but nothing really moves forward. The frustration of many of my hon. Friends in the Chamber is palpable. We do not particularly relish having to come here to talk about this issue time and time again, but we find ourselves having to do so.

Decades on, we find ourselves talking about some of the tragedies that are occurring. Yes, there are occasionally brief spells of calm, but those are then broken by rising tensions, by conflict and by the flare-up of issues. Often, that is because funerals breach curfews that are put in place, which in turn escalates the conflict in this heavily militarised part of the world—and on and on the cycle goes. We have heard a lot about the effects of pellet guns, for instance; I am glad that many hon. Members have raised that. The UK Government must make it clear that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to address civil issues that arise on the streets.

Lots of different organisations and parts of the community have a role to play, as well as the UK. The United Nations clearly has a role. This issue should not be parked and hidden away, often because there is very little media coverage and not much information about what is happening in this part of the world. India and Pakistan do not just have a role—they have a responsibility to do more to move away from the heat and the conflict in this situation to find a better path to the future. Perhaps a wider regional approach to finding peaceful solutions should be explored, given that we see this in other conflict zones around the world. Often where there are bilateral disagreements between two countries in a region, trying to find ways of saving face on either side is incredibly difficult, as we have seen in the middle east, so there is an argument for involving other parties and nations in that part of the world to think about ways of breaking the deadlock.

The Kashmiri community themselves clearly want to have a role, and they do have one: they are a very vocal community in many of our neighbourhoods. As I have said to many groups that press for attention to be given to human rights and for self-determination in Kashmir, it would help massively if they could all co-ordinate and work together. That includes communicating with Members of Parliament, because we are not getting information about what is happening in that part of the world. Much more could be done in the new ways in which we operate, even on social media, to make sure that the wider community and policymakers are aware of issues that arise, and effective co-ordination would make a difference in that regard.

We need to start to think laterally about how to crack this problem so that we are not here again in two years’ time. What different mechanisms could be available to try to find peaceful solutions? The UK has a role and should think about promoting peacekeeping, which means encouraging Governments to demilitarise and stop the attacks to take out the tension and the heat; promoting peace-building, which means reversing some of the destructive steps that have been taken in recent years; and promoting peacemaking, which means searching for negotiated resolutions where possible. All these things can and should be taking place simultaneously.

Leaders in India and Pakistan must all dial back on aggression and not be provoked by individual attacks, although that is of course difficult if they feel that different governmental forces are behind, or alleged to be behind, certain attacks. Normalisation of the situation in Kashmir is absolutely essential so that we can open the routes and channels for dialogue. As my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford East and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) said, we must go back to the rule of law as a matter of urgency, and have the accountability for the police and the armed forces that has been lacking in many ways.

I know there is a long-standing position in terms of the Foreign Office’s policy on this, but I call on the Minister and the UK Government to think about ways of promoting conflict resolution and confidence-building measures between the different sides—for example, a summit to learn lessons about peacemaking tactics in areas where the UK has been involved in times past. The conflict in Northern Ireland was lengthy, and it took a lot of time to get people around the table, sometimes not even in the same building or the same room, but the UK Government have expertise in this field and they should find ways of applying it. It is also worth thinking about the potential role of economic development and regeneration in reciprocation for dialogue that we might want to have, because that has worked in other situations.

I thank those from the Pakistani and Kashmiri community who have made strong representations to me. On Friday 24 February, I will host a Nottingham roundtable on Kashmir, trying to bring together, as independently as I possibly can, all those with an interest in this issue to try to drill down into what the community is looking for and the solutions that might be viable, and then to make representations to the Government. I am grateful for the opportunity to make that point directly to the Minister this afternoon.