Keir Starmer has moved Labour closer to India on the issue of the Kashmir after meeting with an India lobby group this morning.
Following his meeting with Labour Friends of India (LFIN) Starmer said the conflict was a “bilateral issue for India and Pakistan.”
At Labour’s 2019 conference, Labour delegates passed a motion criticising the actions of India in the Kashmiri conflict, and said Kashmiris should have self-determination.
The policy motion approved by the conference also called for international monitors to be admitted to the region.
Ex Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had also made his views clear, tweeting in August 2019: “The situation in Kashmir is deeply disturbing. Human rights abuses taking place are unacceptable. The rights of the Kashmiri people must be respected and UN resolutions implemented.”
But following his meeting with Labour Friends of India, the new Labour leader said: “We must not allow issues of the sub-continent to divide communities here. Any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament, and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully. Labour is an internationalist party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere.”
Pledging to promote UK-India ties, Starmer added: “A Labour government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India and to co-operate on the global stage on issues such as climate change.
“I look forward to meeting the Indian High Commissioner in due course to open a renewed dialogue between the Labour Party and the people of India.”
Meanwhile, Rajesh Agrawal, LFIN co-chair, said: “I really welcome his commitment to rebuilding strong links between the Labour Party and the Indian community. This has been a great start and Keir has achieved a lot in the short span of couple of weeks. Labour Friends of India will work closely with him and will continue to promote UK-India ties as well as continuing to raise any issues from the community to the leadership.”
While pro-India groups had strained relations with Labour in the Corbyn era, they seem happy with the direction of the new Labour leadership.
However, Starmer’s comments on the Kashmiri conflict will be divisive among party members, and particularly controversial on the party’s Left. The Labour Party also has several MPs of Kashmiri heritage.
Kashmir has been placed under a security lockdown since last August when India’s Hindu nationalist government stripped the Muslim-majority Himalayan region’s limited autonomy. Low-speed internet was revived in March after more than six months of communication blackout.
India and Pakistan claim divided Kashmir in its entirety. Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian rule.
Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.