April 1999 News

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Britain ready to solve South Asian problems again

23rd April 1999
The Times of India
By: L.K. Sharma

LONDON: Kashmir may be too far from London but some British parliamentarians were able to drag it at least in the neighbourhood of Kosovo on Tuesday night.

A couple of members of the House of Lords would like Tony Blair to do a U-turn over the Atlantic and instead of heading to meet Bill Clinton about Kosovo, rush to Pakistan to be with the Kashmiri refugees. Lord Ahmed and some other noble lords narrated their moving experience of meeting the Kashmiri refugees during their recent visit to Pakistan.

The British government said nothing new in the house but what a couple of lords said amounted to, in the words of an Indian editor, a wake-up call for the government of India. Adapting Krishna Menon's words, he said, "There are no NATO fighters which fly only in one direction." Perhaps he was provoked particularly by the statement of Lord Evans of Watford that "what was right in the Balkans must surely be right in South Asia."

Back from his visit to Azad Kashmir, the noble lord supported the Kashmiri people's right of self-determination. He painted a grim picture of the "ethnic cleansing going on in Kashmir." He quoted appreciatively Tony Blair's statement on Kosovo, "This is a conflict we are fighting not for territory but for values, for a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated."

Of course, there were some other speakers who did not refer to Kosovo but did want Britain to do some thing about Kashmir. There were still others who said Britain must not interfere, if for nothing else, at least to ensure that the Asian community in Britain is not divided.

Lord Evans of Watford said he had the privilege of visiting Azad Kashmir a few weeks ago and found the people friendly and "very pro-British." "They lo ok to us to help them. After all, we were very much involved in the root causes of the dispute, when a mainly Muslim state was handed to a Hindu democracy. We certainly, therefore, have to bear our share of the responsibility."

The Earl of Dartmouth said in view of the government's commitment to a moral and ethical foreign policy, "It must make forthwith a strong and effective commitment to an equitable solution for Kashmir, which unlike Kosovo, is an area where Britain has both a moral responsibility and strong historical links."

Baroness Williams of Crosby had some other information to give to the house. She said, "There is some reason to believe that there has been supported by the Pakistani intelligence services for the training of guerrillas who subsequently infiltrate into the Indian part of Kashmir, with some considerable suffering and victimisation of Hindu civilians.

She said, "I would not wish to make a Solomon-like judgment in a situation with which we are too familiar -- that is, Northern Ireland and now Kosovo-- a situation of mutual hatreds, of historical vicious circles and of the great difficulty of trying to reach a mutual agreement.

And on the issue nuclear non-proliferation, Baroness Rawlings drew the attention of house to China's nuclear policy which had a bearing on India's policies. Indeed, one of the major impediments to a stable deterrent relationship between India and Pakistan is involved here," she said. She quoted Atal Behari Vajpayee's statement as a young parliamentarian in 1964, after China's nuclear blast. He then said, "The answer to an atom bomb is an atom bomb, nothing else."

The battle in the Lords was fought in the darkness of the night. They came fully prepared and rose from their red leather sofas to shoot off their laser guided arrows with extreme politeness. Each one began by thanking Lord Ahmed, the first to drum up and when the proxy battle of Kashmir was over, the house was not in ruins but stayed resplendent.

The weary noble lords trooped out after the non-partisan government said there was "still no resolution after 50 years to Kashmir, one of the longest-running disputes of the world." The government spokesperson, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, did not fail to thank all noble lords for their "passionately held views." What gave colour to the debate was the different origins of the noble Lords present. These were Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Celtic, English, Welsh, Scottish, European and those too mixed to be distinguishable.

The government spokesperson did not depart from the earlier official briefs and the delicate balance was maintained. India could take comfort from some sentences, Pakistan and Lord Ahmed could take comfort from some other sentences. She wished them both success in their efforts to find solutions to their problems. She welcomed the resumption of Indo-Pakistan talks, condemned serious human rights violations as well as terrorism and called for "an end to an external support for any violence in Kashmir."

Britain would continue to urge India and Pakistan to find a just and lasting solution, acceptable to the population of Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control. The government regretted that India and Pakistan had chosen to conduct missile tests and urged the two countries to adhere unconditionally to the relevant non-proliferation regimes and not to deploy nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

Lord Ahmed had risen to ask her majesty's government whether they will promote fresh international initiatives to alleviate the current state of tension between India and Pakistan. He said Britain had a moral and legal responsibility to resolve the issue of Kashmir. He maintained that the Kashmir was an "international issue," not a bilateral matter. He wanted the government to confirm that the U.N. resolutions on Kashmir were valid. He submitted a long list of things which her majesty's government should ask India to do.

Baroness Uddin of Bangladeshi origin said: "I hope we remember our imperial past. Any role must be restricted to that of a facilitator, but must be one on the basis that both parties ask the British government for that intervention."

Lord Dholakia pointed out the danger of the debate becoming one-sided. A selective use of one-sided information could only damage the peace process and also good community relations in this country. He said the international community should refrain from any act or suggestion which may only serve to derail the two countries from their chosen path of enhancing peace and security for both.

Lord Paul reminded the house that sometimes external involvement and intervention, even those made with the best of intentions by the best of friends, could aggravate local sensitivities. Any unwanted involvement in the matters of the sub-continent, very often raised passions that divided the Asian community in Britain and hence should be avoided, he said.

Lord Clarke of Hampastead called for a fresh initiative by the "international community" which should come from the United Nations which must pursue the principle of self-determination.

The Earl of Sand which, appropriately reflecting plurality, appreciated the efforts made by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, saying that "they certainly did not need Tony Blair to help them."

The Earl also referred to the issue of nuclear and missile tests about which some lords had expressed their unease. he pointed out that India saw it differently. "The big five nuclear `great ghosts', or panch mahabhoot as they are known in India, see things quite differently."

He asked the house "not to be nostalgic for India's non-aligned, anti-nuclear stance under Nehru, which had long given way to a potentially stronger, more technologically advanced country desperate for international respect, foreign investment and nuclear club membership. In spite of what has been said, today India needs some defence. She appears even more vulnerable than ever to aggression along her northern border."

Lord Avebury who raises the human rights issues in the house frequently said significantly: "The evidence also shows that many killings in Kashmir are now being perpetrated by foreigners.

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