London: The UK government on Tuesday said that it was monitoring the situation in Kashmir closely and called for calm as the country’s parliamentarians echoed some of the wider divisions over the India’s decision to revoke Article 370 and bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indian government on Monday revoked Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and proposed that the state be bifurcated into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
“We are following developments closely and support calls for the situation to remain calm,” said a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesperson, in reference to the issue which has led British MPs to express both “grave concern” and “strong support”.
The chair of Britain’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kashmir has written to UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab to flag the human rights concerns and ask if the UK will be raising the issue at the next UN Security Council in September.
“We are gravely concerned at the announcement by Indian Home Minister, Amit Shah, that Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, has been removed by Presidential Order,” Debbie Abrahams, an Opposition Labour Party MP and Chair of the APPG on Kashmir, notes in her letter to the FCO minister.
“The unilateral decision made by the Indian government to remove Article 370 betrays the trust of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, dating back to the accession of 1947, and threatens to escalate tensions in the region even further. It also contravenes international law,” she said, calling on the senior minister to urgently inform Britain’s MPs of the representations being made by the UK on the issue.
Abrahams also issued a letter to the Indian High Commissioner to the UK Ruchi Ghanashyam, calling for a meeting to discuss the position of the Indian government even as she drew parallels with the United Kingdom’s own devolved government with regions such as Scotland.
She called for a “moratorium” to allow the citizens affected by the action to have their say and asked that international observers be sent to the region.
The cross-party APPG on Kashmir, which claims to be made up of MPs and peers of both Indian and Pakistani heritage, was created to support the “right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people through dialogue” and campaigns for a process of peace and reconciliation in Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control.
Another very vocal British MP on the issue is the Chair of the APPG on British Hindus, Conservative Party MP Bob Blackman, who described Article 370 as an “anomaly” which has held Kashmir back by starving it of investment through the prevention of external ownership of land.
“I strongly support the revocation of Article 370 Narendra Modi has again shown proper and strong leadership in honouring the manifesto of the BJP now is the time to properly integrate Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Constitution,” said Blackman.
“Kashmiri Pandits must be guaranteed right of return after they were the victims of ethnic cleansing and this move should prevent any other minority groups being forced to leave the Kashmir Valley.
“The Valley provides excellent opportunities for agricultural and cultural handicraft exports, the development of hydro-electric power and tourism. Most important, however, is clearing the area of terrorists high security is paramount,” Blackman said.
The UK is home to a significant Kashmiri-origin population, with many of these groups similarly divided in their reaction to the Indian government’s move.
“What happens in Kashmir resonates in the UK,” says Raffaello Pantucci of the UK-based think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
“Talk to any [British] MP who represents a constituency with a substantial South Asian population, and they will tell you about the degree to which issues in the subcontinent show up regularly in their surgeries,” he said.