Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual
Since August, the situation in Kashmir, and the tensions it has created between India and Pakistan, has provoked discussions about what the West’s involvement should be. Indeed, President Trump has even off ered his help as a ‘mediator’ between the two countries. As a British Indian, an MEP and the recently-elected chair of the Indian Delegation for the EU, I believe that the West must strive to not appear neo-colonial.
The issue came to the fore in early August, when the Indian Government revoked the constitutional provisions which gave legal autonomy to the region of Jammu and Kashmir (known as Article 370). Many in the European Parliament were asking what the move would mean for a region that has been plagued by conﬂict since 1947.
Some accused the Indian Prime Minister of behaving like an autocrat. Yet regardless of what we might think, we must not forget that this was a decision taken by the largest democracy in the world. One of Indian Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s key election pledges was that the Indian Parliament would change provisions in Jammu and Kashmir. His government won with a two-thirds majority.
Last month, I addressed the European Parliament in agreement with the vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini. Yes, conﬂ ict in the region would be a disaster, but we cannot interfere.
Prior to our debate, some people criticised India’s measures for preventing a violent outbreak or terrorist attack, namely cutting phone lines and internet connections. Yet as I argued in Parliament, this measure was taken as a precaution and with strong grounds.
Indian authorities are aware of terrorists plotting attacks and incursions into India, residing in the mountains on the Pakistan side. History tells us they have every intention to cause harm, and they make no exceptions for civilians.
"The West wants to see peace in the region, but we cannot aff ord to appear neo-colonial, interfering in a bilateral issue between two nations, one of which is the biggest democracy in the world"
Of course, India wants normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan, but they fear attacks from groups seeking to carry out violent attacks in India. Earlier this month, India conﬁ rmed that 80 percent of telephone landlines in the region are now functioning.
Meanwhile, India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, recently wrote an article for the Financial Times with the intention of making the country’s position clear: In changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir, the government is removing an obstacle to a range of social, economic and political challenges currently blighting the region.
Let me be clear, these legislative changes have not altered India’s external boundaries or that between India and Pakistan. The changes are domestic and, as I see it, will eventually make a positive impact on the lives of the people living there. The change in status means that 40 acts of parliament in Indian law will now apply to all residents in Jammu and Kashmir.
“As this publication has highlighted in the past, the EU holds political and economic interests with India and Pakistan”
Archaic practices that stripped women of their basic human rights have now been outlawed, including child marriage, animal cruelty and Triple Talaq divorce, which allows a man to divorce his wife on a whim by saying or even texting ‘Talaq’ three times. Europe should celebrate the fact that women in Kashmir will now enjoy the same rights as women in the rest of India.
As chair of a delegation of MEPs assigned speciﬁ cally to help international relations with India, putting my views to one side I know that this is a bilateral issue. Many are fearful of increased violence in the region in the coming months. There has even been talk of possible nuclear war. The temptation in the European community is to wade in on the issue.
But, as my colleague Federica Mogherini argued, the European Parliament must urge India and Pakistan to engage in direct dialogue. They need to seek a peaceful and political solution, one that is respectful of the interests of the Kashmiri population on both sides of the Line of Control.
As this publication has highlighted in the past, the EU holds political and economic interests with India and Pakistan. Pakistan enjoys a Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) trade status. We work with India in the ﬁght against terrorism and to combat climate change.
Our relationship with India accounted for €92bn in trade in 2018. The West wants to see peace in the region, but we cannot aff ord to appear neo-colonial, interfering in a bilateral issue between two nations, one of which is the biggest democracy in the world.
How would the governments of the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland feel if another power tried to interfere in the issue of the Irish border? A solution will only be achieved through direct dialogue between the two nations and we must resist the temptation, as we might have done 100 years ago, to interfere.