Naz's Contribution to the Debate on Kashmir in the House of Commons
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) on securing this timely and important debate.
It is said that in war there are no winners, only losers. If so, the people of the Kashmir region have surely paid too great a price. The UN resolution was passed in 1948—almost 70 years ago—and we seem no closer to self-determination in the Kashmir region than we did then.
As we know, and as many have said and will say in this debate, the last six months have seen nothing but backwards steps. We have curfews; censorship; the wounding, maiming and killing of civilians; the death of military personnel on both sides; the economy crumbling; food shortages; a refugee crisis caused by tens of thousands of displaced civilians; and skirmishes along the line of control. We have seen international pacts under threat, water shortages, deep divisions on both sides of the line of control, and progress well and truly in reverse.
As we all know, it has been the position of this Government and of successive Governments that the issue of Kashmir is for India and Pakistan to resolve at a pace they see fit, and in a way they see fit, and that it is not for our Government to intervene, suggest solutions or mediate. But what, then, do this House and this country stand for? We have loss of life, widely reported human rights abuses and a United Nations that cannot gain genuine access to the Kashmir valley. To our shame, although we raise this issue with both sides, every time any member of the Government has been challenged to raise it directly at the United Nations, that request has, as far as we can tell, been politely declined, politely deflected and politely ignored.
Those who live in the region and those of us who follow events in Kashmir closely know that a deep underlying tension has scarred one of the most beautiful places in the world. We have all seen the pictures and reports of the oppressive and aggressive tactics that have been used to silence dissent and squash civil unrest. But the people are restless, and rightly so—it has been nearly 70 years since partition, and they are no closer to being in control of their own destiny.
The reports that have come out of the region have been tragic and disturbing. Estimates put civilian deaths at somewhere between 85 and 120. The number of civilian casualties is estimated to be over 13,000, due to the action by security services. We have seen communication —internet and telephone services—restricted. We have seen an attack on the free press, and particularly the Kashmir Reader, which was banned from publishing for months.
Many have talked today about the use of pellets. How a standard operating procedure of firing below the knee can be used for a shell of pellets that have a 6 metre dispersal range is a question for the ages. That is, by any definition of the term, an indiscriminate use of force when used in a crowd, and reports have shown that that is the case in practice, with many civilians losing their eyesight due to this modern form of crowd control.
One widely reported story that struck me was that of a 14-year-old girl who died of respiratory illness. She died as a result of inhaling PAVA chili gas. For six days, she lived with burns to her throat and lungs, and she eventually passed away in a hospital on a ventilator.
The motion raises a number of issues that need further consideration by the House. One is that the Government need to do more at the United Nations to encourage the de-escalation of tension, to encourage both sides to give the UN access to the Kashmir valley and to assess the reports of human rights violations.
I absolutely agree that we need to push for an independent inquiry.
We are not asking the Government to prescribe how Pakistan and India resolve the entrenched issue of peace in Kashmir, but everyone here will recognise that, with the situation as it is on the ground—with civilians being killed, oppressed and impoverished—there can be no progress towards peace or a resolution. We have an obligation to do everything in our power to help the region return to a level of normality—I use that term loosely—before any progress can be made towards peace.
The motion also recognises that, for there to be any meaningful and lasting peace in the region, the people of Kashmir have to have the freedom and security to make a decision for themselves. We have long talked about the self-determination of the Kashmir people, but under the current occupation, and without robust and lasting local representation, can we truly expect to reach a position where the will and wishes of the people in this region are not only heard but truly listened to?
When uprisings like this are met with excessive force, that only further entrenches differences. These things have played out many times since the 1990s; at the end, the bodies of civilians are counted, and the people who survive and who struggle to live in this region become further embittered towards those they hold responsible for their oppression.
It is in the interests of Pakistan and India to improve relations, for the security and prosperity of the over 1.4 billion people who live in those countries and the region as a whole. The situation requires strong international leadership—not to force India and Pakistan into a solution but to invest in the foundations that can lead to a lasting peace and to the self-determination of the Kashmir people, and I call on the Government to take the lead.
We have a responsibility 70 years in the making. We as a nation have a vested interest in both these countries. We are intrinsically linked to both of them. We have had a major impact on their history, and we must help them to create a future. We have just signed a massive trade deal with India. The China-Pakistan economic corridor will have an impact on the wider world in terms of trade, growth and prosperity. There is an international perspective, and it is to our benefit.
I spent my teenage years in what is known as Azad Kashmir. Azad, means “free”: free to go to the shops, free to play, free to go out into the street, free to visit—free to go wherever I, or my family, want. My family remain in Azad and continue to enjoy the freedoms of Azadi, but the children in occupied Kashmir do not have those freedoms. They might not return if they go out. A son might not return with his eyesight, and that will affect 70% of his abilities as a human being—I know that from my experience of working with disabilities. A young girl might not return, and if she does, has she been raped and violated? These things—these disabilities—are the reality of the occupation in Kashmir. We cannot and must not abdicate our responsibility. It will be quite frankly shameful if the Government continue in their inaction.
I ask Members to support the motion and to call on the Government to use the current climate to help push Pakistan and India into more prosperous diplomatic relations. I finish with the words of Martin Luther King:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
This House and this Government cannot remain silent on the issue of Kashmir anymore.
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