” Within the last four and a half years, we had begun to talk about sharing our values of peaceful diplomacy, solidarity and protecting human rights. This was a break from the perspective that sought to justify the horrendous decision to go to war with Iraq.”Nadia Jama
Nadia Jama – BAME Officer, Sheffield Central CLP
In 1947, following India’s partition and independence from the British Empire, the state of Kashmir was given the choice of joining either India or Pakistan. Fearing that their ruler, Maharaj Hari Singh, would accede to the new Hindu state, the Muslim majority of Kashmir rebelled, aided by Pakistan. The maharaja tried to put down the uprising and sought help from India. In 1949, following a bloody war, the two sides reached a ceasefire and the people were promised a referendum.
Today, Kashmir remains occupied – by Pakistan in the north-west, by India in the larger south-eastern region, and by China in the eastern-most and uninhabited Aksai Chin area. It is the world’s most militarised zone.
Repression is rife, particularly in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir where political violence has intensified under the BJP government of Narendra Modi. Last year, Modi revoked Articles 370 and 35a of the constitution – which grant Kashmir regional autonomy – and imposed a stricter military lockdown, with many well documented instances of human rights violations.
After 73 years, the people of Kashmir are still without their voice. It’s for this reason that Keir Starmer’s recent statement regarding Kashmir’s struggle for independence – in which he declared it a ‘bilateral issue’ to be resolved by India and Pakistan – is extremely disappointing.
Thousands of Kashmiris living in the UK rely on the Labour Party to stand up and speak out against human rights violations. In making the statement, we have denied the Kashmiri people agency over their own future, as mandated under UN Resolution 47.
There is also a risk that, as a Party, we could appear to have chosen between different BAME communities – Hindu votes at the expense of Muslim votes – rather than basing our stance on consistent and unwavering support for international humanitarian justice.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown how tightly bound we all are, as a human race. Labour should be the party of internationalism and solidarity with all corners of the world. That means standing up against oppression and human rights violations, not flinching from doing or saying the right thing.
Within the last four and a half years, we had begun to talk about sharing our values of peaceful diplomacy, solidarity and protecting human rights. This was a break from the perspective that sought to justify air strikes in Syria or the horrendous decision to go to war with Iraq.
In 2016 we established a Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament and our 2019 Manifesto our ‘new Internationalism’ promised to prioritise conflict prevention and peace building. We steadfastly committed to ‘conduct an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy to understand our contribution to the dynamics of violence and insecurity across regions previously under British colonial rule”.
Doesn’t Kashmir fall into this bracket? And what does this recent stance under the new leadership mean for the other countries and people we have previously supported in their quest for self-determination – for example, Palestine and Myanmar? Are we to abandon those commitments too?
Our Delegate and Trade Union members voted overwhelmingly to support the Kashmiri people at the 2019 Labour Conference. Conference is the only opportunity Labour Party members have to influence our Party’s policies. We cannot allow the Party to fall back into the old ways of conference and members, being ignored as the sovereign body of our policy decision making.
Regardless of who is in charge, members must have a greater – not lesser – influence on policy. No one should have the right to backtrack and unpick the decisions made at conference. It’s up to us to keep the pressure on our new leadership to ensure that what we agree at conference is what we, as a Party, adhere to – a foreign policy of consistent support for human rights, peace and diplomacy.