Kashmir issue: Role of Pakistan, India and world community discussed at Chatham House

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LONDON: A PANEL debating the Kashmir crisis at Chatham House here on Thursday evening had a fiery discussion about the role of Pakistan, India and the international community in the dispute, featuring former UK foreign secretary Jack Straw, Pakistan’s former permanent representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi, former British diplomat Mark Lyall Grant and Indian journalist Nidhi Razdan.

The discussion — titled “The cost to Britain of the Kashmir crisis: Is there a solution?” — was moderated by former Financial Times journalist John Elliot and was attended by members of the Pakistani diaspora, journalists and academics.

According to an Arab News report, in his opening remarks, Mr Straw, who served in the British cabinet from 1997 to 2010, said the Kashmir issue is a fraught one for outsiders. “Pakistan wants to internationalise the Kashmir issue, while India absolutely resists that notion and sees it entirely as a bilateral dispute,” he said, adding that he “is extremely sympathetic” to the citizens of occupied Jammu and Kashmir and does not support Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to revoke Article 370.

He added, however, that he feels over the years Pakistan’s politics and economy have been “distorted” in an attempt to redraw the boundaries of Kashmir, and that this pursuit is untenable as it has led to the support of armed groups and has also served to increase defence spending disproportionately.

“Anyone who is a friend of Pakistan needs to reflect on why it is that India and Pakistan were level in 1947 in terms of economy but not today. Pakistan was more prosperous at some points. But now the GDP is ahead in India. Pakistan’s defence spending is 4 per cent of GDP, which is among the top five or six countries in the world.”

Mr Straw said that what Mr Modi has done by revoking Article 370 “is outrageous and preposterous and seems not to have a strategy”, but added that the reason Pakistan has less traction on this issue internationally is due to the allegations that “it sponsors terrorism”.

Ms Lodhi said that India’s illegal annexation of occupied Jammu and Kashmir on Aug 5 triggered multiple crises. She pointed out that there were human rights abuses and an unprecedented communications blackout, which had caused the residents of the occupied valley to be gripped by fear.

“This action of India is a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions. There aren’t just one or two resolutions — there are 11 specific to (occupied) Jammu and Kashmir. The resolution bars any party from changing the status quo. India sought to change that,” she said.

She explained how Pakistan, with China’s help, pushed for a meeting of the Security Council after Modi’s dramatic move to end the occupied valley’s special status. “Why was India so against even a Security Council meeting? They lobbied very hard to stop it. But, fortunately, the consensus among 15 members of the council was that the meeting must take place and Kashmir must be on the agenda.”

She thanked the UK for playing what she said was “an important role in ensuring that the meeting took place”.

Ms Lodhi ended her speech by saying that the curfew in Kashmir had to be lifted. “What will happen then? There is a likelihood of a popular eruption in the occupied territory. If India uses greater force to suppress the uprising, then you have a recipe for a possible bloodbath.

“Pakistan does not wish for a further escalation, which is why we have been asking the international community to act before it’s too late.”

Ms Razdan, a prominent broadcast journalist with NDTV, spoke next and clarified that she was speaking in her capacity as a journalist and a Kashmiri and not as a spokesperson for the government of India.

She reiterated the Indian government’s longstanding allegations of “cross-border terrorism”, but acknowledged that resentment was brewing within occupied Kashmir. “India has concerns about terror emanating from Pakistan. But there is a local militancy in Kashmir as well, which is encouraged by Pakistan.”

Ms Razdan said that although some restrictions had been lifted, others remained, and that political leaders continued to be detained while trade and industry were largely shut. She took exception to Ms Lodhi’s point that eight million people were living in fear and said that unlike what was reported, hospitals in Kashmir were not graveyards.

“Sadly, the people in whose name these changes [revocation of the special status] took place were not consulted. The political leaders who carried the Indian flag all these decades are in detention. All this hardly burnishes India’s credentials as the world’s largest democracy.”

She added that the prospects of dialogue between the two neighbouring countries were poor as jingoism was high in India.

The final speaker, Mr Lyall Grant, dubbed Mr Modi’s revocation of Article 370 as a “strategic mistake”. “It has come at a bigger cost to India [than anyone] as India risks its global reputation,” he said, adding that the cost was also high to the UK, as more extremism in Kashmir would have repercussions in Britain which had a large Kashmiri diaspora.

He said that the cost of a conflict between Pakistan and India would be astonishingly high, and was estimated to be “about 20 billion pounds” if one factored in evacuations and refugees. “We [Britain] caused the problem [during partition]. So whether it is discreet or not, we have a duty to solve it,” he added.