U.K.'s Kashmir Lobby Forces Debate In House Of Commons14 September 2011
London: Britain's strong Kashmir lobby, represented by MPs with large constituents of Pakistani origin from Mirpur, has seized on an Amnesty International report on alleged human rights violations in Kashmir to seek the British government's intervention prompting a full-scale debate in the House of Commons on Thursday. The debate, called by Conservative MP Steve Baker, has raised eyebrows in Indian diplomatic circles. While there was no official comment, India was reported to have conveyed its unhappiness to the MPs and the Foreign Office describing the move as “not very unhelpful” in advancing India-U.K. relations. The Foreign Office said it had nothing to do with the debate. It was entirely the business of Parliament, which was free to discuss anything. India House would be keenly watching the “tone” of the debate and the government's response. Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, who has been lined up to reply on behalf of the government, is expected to stick to the official line on Kashmir while generally sharing MPs concerns over human rights. Britain regards Kashmir as an “unresolved” dispute but believes that it is for India and Pakistan to resolve it. Its own attempts to play the mediator in the past have caused fury in New Delhi but it still craves for a role in resolving a dispute that former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described as a lingering British legacy. Despite official assurances, there was anxiety about the content and direction of the debate. And what if the Minister didn't stick to the script? The fact that the government has decided to field a junior Minister to reply to the debate was, however, seen as an encouraging sign. Indian diplomatic sources rejected suggestions that it might affect India-U.K. relations, pointing out that it was not a government-sponsored debate. India had been assured that there was no change in Britain's Kashmir policy.