UK Parliament panel recd Rs 3m from Pakistan for trip to AJK

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LONDON: The government of Pakistan spent out PKR 30 lakh on a trip to Pakistan and AJK for members of a British parliamentary group whose aim is to highlight the Kashmir issue and seek justice for Kashmiris, the Times of India has reported.

The newspaper claims that the register of all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) shows that the APPG on Kashmir (APPGK), chaired by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, who was barred entry to India in February 2020 owing to an invalid visa, received a “benefit in kind” of between £31,501 (Rs 29.7 lakh) and £33,000 (Rs 31.2 lakh) on February 18, 2020 from the Pakistan government for a “visit to Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir” between February 18 and 22.

Debbie Abrahams, Oldham East and Saddleworth MP

It is mandatory for the APPGs to declare benefits in kind and money received worth more than £1,500 on the APPG register.

Debbie Abrahams, the chair, was not allowed to enter India to Dubai on February 17 this year after reaching Delhi with her PIO parliamentary aide Harpreet Uppal and being informed at the airport that her e-visa was not valid. The following day she flew to Pakistan and met Pakistan PM Imran Khan, all funded by the Pakistan government.

This is not the first time that the group has received funding from Pakistan.

In September 2018, the Pakistan High Commission in London had given around £12000 to the group meant for a visit to Islamabad and Kashmir.

MP Bob Blackman, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for India told India Today, “30 lakh PNR is a great amount of money for one person to visit Pakistan. It’s sad that the all party group supposedly for Kashmir is 100 per cent dominated by Pakistani supporters.”

Page from register of All-Party Parliamentary Group

The all party parliamentary groups are informal cross-party groups that have no official status within the Parliament, but they act as influencer and pressure groups. Members from the House of Commons as well as House of Lords can be a part of it along with organisations from outside the Parliament.

The APPG on Kashmir, the one chaired by Debbie Abrahams, has been vocal in its criticism about the abolition of Article 370. Members of the group include cross-party parliamentarians who support the “right to self-determination of Kashmiri people through dialogue; to seek support from British parliamentarians; to highlight the abuses of human rights in Kashmir; and to seek justice for the people there.”

Debbie Abrahams has been highly critical of the Indian government’s move to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, granted under the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. She had written to the then High Commissioner in London, Ruchi Ghanshyam expressing her concerns over the removal of Article 370.

Debbie Abrahams also wrote to UK’s foreign Secretary Dominic Raab asking him for a “temporary prohibition of India’s move to remove article 370, calling it a violation of International Law.

Debbie responds:

Meanwhile, Debbie Abrahams has denied taking direct money from Pakistan government. Taking to Twitter, Debbie Abraham called APPGK a well-represented group from all political parties with parliamentarians of “Indian, Pakistani & Kashmiri heritages, & Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian religions & none” backgrounds.

“In January 2020, following 4 months of lockdown in Indian-administered Kashmir, another UN report highlighting human rights abuses in Indian- & Pakistani-administered Kashmir, & in the absence of any unfettered visit by any country & any visit by the UK Govt, I approached both the Indian &Pakistani Government’s to see if British Parliamentarians could have unfettered accessFebruary recess,” the Labour MP wrote in a series of tweets.

She claimed that she received an immediate reply from the Pakistan High Commissioner. “I have yet to receive a reply from the Indian High Commission. On behalf of the APPKG, my team planned our visit to Islamabad, Muzzafrabad, the Line of Control, Milpur & Golpur,” Debbie Abrahams said.

“This state visit was organised by the Pakistan govt. The APPKG received no cash payment from any individual, organisation or govt,” the MP said.