Britain not to meddle in Kashmir issue, back bilateral talks

London: Britain has ruled out any third party intervention in resolving the Kashmir issue saying that it was for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution which takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

A strong plea by Lord Nazir Ahmed, who was born in PoK, in the House of Lords last night in favour of a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir elicited no support from the government.

Lord Ahmed had initiated a short debate on Kashmir to ask the government whether it supported the peace process between India and Pakistan to resolve all disputes, "including regarding the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir."

He said the issue should be resolved before the international community withdrew from Afghanistan as he apprehended that "Kashmir may give extremists a rallying point."

Replying to the debate, Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Warsi said, "On Kashmir, our position has always been that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation there, which takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people."

"However, I believe that any attempts by the United Kingdom or third parties, however well intentioned, to mediate or prescribe solutions would hinder progress. It is for the two countries to move towards resolving these issues directly."

"That is why successive British Governments, including the previous Labour Government, have taken the position that they have," she said.

Indian origin peer Lord Swraj Paul, who was unable to participate in the debate said in a statement that it will not be advisable for Britain or any other power to meddle in the Kashmir dispute and it has to be settled bilaterally between India and Pakistan.

"I think it is not advisable for Britain, or any other power, to meddle in this dispute. I have no doubt that Her Majesty's Government supports the Indo-Pak peace process to resolve all outstanding disputes bilaterally and peacefully," Lord Paul said.

"I have followed this unfortunate dispute which has gone on for some 65 years. All this time, I have had the privilege of discussing it with successive Prime Ministers of India and three of their counterparts in Pakistan. It is obvious from these conversations that it is not an easy issue to resolve but both parties have decided to find a solution through bilateral dialogue."

"Three Indian Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi, Inder Kumar Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made finding a solution to this problem their mission. Mrs Gandhi reached an agreement in 1972 with Pakistan President Bhutto, binding the two countries to settle their dispute bilaterally. Mr Vajpayee went to Pakistan in 1999 for a summit with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif."

"Both reaffirmed full commitment to the Shimla agreement. The present Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, born in what is now Pakistan, is committed to normalisation of ties with Pakistan in spite of severe criticism even in India itself," Lord Paul said.

He noted that despite repeated efforts to find a peaceful solution to this, a number of elements and entities keep trying to derail this process. Acts of terrorism, such as the horrendous terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, and earlier on Indian Parliament, are part of these efforts. "However, the good news is that the constituency for peace in both India and Pakistan is widening. Despite occasional problems, the two countries have remained committed to maintaining peace. There is greater people-to-people contact, greater trade, and greater interaction," he said.

Recalling his visit to Kashmir in 1996 with then British shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Lord Paul said "Kashmir was in turmoil at that time, largely because of terrorism that originated in Pakistan, a fact widely acknowledged by the international community."

"We met almost all of the key players in Kashmir including those who had taken to the gun. They had their grievances. Over the years happily those guns have fallen silent. The acts of terror in Kashmir have virtually stopped."

Kashmir was visited by one and a half million tourists in 2012 including some 75,000 foreigners.

"Several countries including Japan, Germany and most recently, Great Britain have lifted advisories against travel of their nationals to Kashmir, reflecting the peaceful situation there," he said.

 Lord Paul pointed out that people of Kashmir have wholeheartedly participated in elections to the Indian Parliament, the state legislature and the local bodies called 'Panchayats'. Last year 80 per cent electors voted in the local bodies elections in which over 33,000 representatives were elected.

These elections were acknowledged by the International community to be free and fair. In 2008 Assembly elections, over 60 per cent of the electorate voted despite boycott calls from Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan. The polls brought to power a British-born young man, Omar Abdullah, who at 38 became the youngest Chief Minister of the state.

"He is today the popularly elected leader of Jammu and Kashmir."

Referring to the issue of self-determination for the people of Kashmir, raised by Lord Ahmed, Lord Paul said in 1948 the United Nations, to which India had complained about an invasion from the Pakistani side, had passed a resolution on the issue to have a plebiscite in Kashmir on the question of accession of the state to India or Pakistan. This was conditional on Pakistan first withdrawing its troops from the areas of state it had occupied, and hence never happened.

The two countries decided to resolve Kashmir bilaterally, the UN resolutions have been overtaken. Even the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan suggested in 2006 that the UN resolutions on Kashmir had become irrelevant, he said.

Lord Paul said all friends of India and Pakistan have been encouraging the two countries in their dialogue process and urging them to settle their disputes bilaterally.

"President Barack Obama said in July last year that disputes between India and Pakistan can only be resolved among themselves. He quoted Obama saying "it is not the place of any nation, including the United States, to try to impose solutions from outside".