MEPs put spotlight on Kashmir
With tensions growing between India and Pakistan following New Delhi’s recent decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, MEPs are divided on how the EU should respond.
Speaking at a recent Friends of Kashmir parliamentary intergroup conference, S&D deputy Richard Corbett said, “Following recent dramatic events in Kashmir, this conference is an opportunity to raise awareness across Europe of the situation there.”
He was referring to the controversial withdrawal of Article 370 and 35a in the Indian constitution, giving Kashmir and its people special status within the country.
“India’s unilateral action in revoking the special status of the part of Kashmir under its control, removing the territory of Ladakh from Kashmir, sending thousands of additional troops, shutting down communications and arresting prominent politicians is simply unacceptable," he added.
Jammu and Kashmir is India’s most northern state, bordering Pakistan and China. India and Pakistan have been locked in a dispute over its control since partition, with tensions provoking three wars between the countries over the territory in 1947, 1965 and 1999.
India claims that Pakistan’s military and intelligence services support and arm terrorist groups to carry out attacks in India-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan, meanwhile, has criticised India’s human rights record when dealing with the region’s civilian population in the region - something Indian armed forces strongly dispute.
The issues are compounded by China’s territorial dispute with India; this makes it a potential ﬂashpoint between three nuclear armed countries.
“There has been a vast amount of misinformation in the parliament on Jammu and Kashmir and the removal of Article 370”
Co-chair of the Friends of Kashmir intergroup, Anthea McIntyre, believed it was important to draw attention to “the appalling atrocities and the continuing oppression of the people,” adding, “the decision of the Indian government to rescind Articles 370 and 35a of the constitution, accompanied by a surge of additional troops, is of grave concern.”
She believes that the Indian government's recent action will obstruct any efforts to bring peace to the region. For Irina von Wiese, a newly-elected deputy from the UK, her main concern was protecting human rights.
The vice-chair of Parliament’s DROI sub-committee said, “I am gravely concerned about the recent developments in Kashmir and increase in the risk for human rights violations in the region.”
She wanted to see the EU engage with both countries to help facilitate negotiations to ﬁnd a solution.
However, S&D deputy Neena Gill disputed these positions, saying, “There has been a vast amount of misinformation in the parliament on Jammu and Kashmir on the removal of Article 370.”
“India’s unilateral action in revoking the special status of the part of Kashmir under its control, removing the territory of Ladakh from Kashmir, sending thousands of additional troops, shutting down communications and arresting prominent politicians is simply unacceptable”
She pointed out that, historically, the special provision in the Indian constitution was designed to be temporary. The former vice-chair of the parliament delegation to India believes the revocation of the articles will modernise and bring good governance to the area.
“It was important that changes were made, ensuring that the rights of children to education, LGBT rights, banning of child marriages, and divorce reforms, were also applicable to the region. Article 370 prevented these rights, which were enjoyed by the rest of India.”
Renew Europe deputy, Dinesh Dhamija, could not understand Pakistan’s objections to India’s law change, saying, “The revocation of Article 370 only affects those parts of Kashmir that are in India. I am at a loss to see why Pakistan has issues with the revocation.”
Like Gill, the newly-elected representative highlighted the beneﬁts that the change in status brought to the Kashmiri people.
“There are many advantages stemming from the new situation, such as improved human rights for young girls and women, which have now considerably improved.”
Dhamija disputed Corbett’s interpretation of the 1947 UN Resolution, pointing out that it stipulates that a vote for independence can only take place following a total withdrawal of Pakistani troops; something that seems highly unlikely.
Former chair of Parliament’s delegation to India, Geoffrey Van Orden, was critical of Pakistan’s role in the dispute, blaming the country for rising tensions, saying, “Ever since Pakistan invaded the territory of Kashmir in 1947, its special services have propagated terrorism and subversion.”
He believed Pakistan was now trying to mobilise international opinion against India, including using the European Parliament “as a platform for its propaganda and distortions."
He warned that it was not Parliament’s role to irritate or inﬂame the issue, potentially jeopardising the EU’s strategic partnership with India at a time when there was progress towards ever-closer relations.
The Conservative representative believed Pakistan was hypocritical in accusing India of human rights abuses, when its own record was ‘appalling’. He highlighted the violence faced by religious minorities, in part fostered by the government’s own discriminatory laws.
The issue of Kashmir was also debated during September’s Strasbourg plenary session, although there was no mention of applying political or economic pressure on India by the Council.
Finnish EU council president representative, Tytti Tuppurainen, said “We continue to urge both parties to engage in direct dialogue with a view to a peaceful solution in full respect of their international human rights obligations," adding, “in a moment of rising tensions in different regions around the world, no one can afford another escalation in Kashmir.”
The EU has both political and economic interests with India and Pakistan. Currently Pakistan enjoys a Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) trade status. However, the relationship with India is signiﬁcantly more important and is described as a ‘strategic partnership’.
There is close cooperation on many important issues including combatting terrorism, anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, tackling cybersecurity and climate change. Economically the relationship is also important, accounting for €92bn in trade in 2018.
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