Five days after Labour leader Keir Starmer moved the party closer to India on the issue of Kashmir, no Muslim Labour MPs (several of whom are of Kashmiri heritage) have directly criticised him over it.
Labour has 14 Muslim MPs – Apsana Begum, Tahir Ali, Tulip Siddiq, Khalid Mahmood, Zarah Sultana, Imran Hussain, Naz Shah, Yasmin Qureshi, Rupa Huq, Rosena Allin-Khan, Afsal Khan, Shabana Mahmood, Roshonara Choudhry and Muhammad Yasin.
And ten of them are of Kashmiri or Pakistani heritage – Ali, Khalid Mahmood, Shabana Mahmood, Sultana, Hussain, Shah, Qureshi, Allin-Khan, Afsal Khan and Yasin.
While a few Labour Muslim MPs have reiterated their support for Kashmir since Starmer’s comments, none have directly criticised the new Labour leader despite uproar from pro-Kashmir activists.
Bradford MP Imran Hussain said a meeting would be held over the issue with Keir Starmer this week.
He said: “For my entire adult life, I have fought fiercely for the realisation of the sons and daughters of Kashmir’s right to self-determination, as mandated by decades old UN Security Council Resolutions, and my record in Parliament is clear for all to see. I will continue this fight until Kashmiris are free to choose and shape their own destiny, and their 70 year wait to do so is finally brought to an end.
“I will never cease to condemn the barbaric and well-documented human rights abuses, persecution and injustices that are faced on a daily basis by Kashmiris living under a brutal military occupation.
“We have a duty to speak out against such abuses towards other human beings, wherever in the world they take place, and I will continue my call for those who subject others to torture, extra-judicial killing, rape, illegal detention, and draconian blockades to be held accountable for their crimes.”
On Monday evening Birmingham MP Tahir Ali issued the strongest statement yet by any Labour MP.
On his Facebook page he said: “We in the Labour Party must stand in solidarity with the Kashmiri people. The long drawn out dispute between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, over Kashmir has brought untold human misery and continues to be an issue that threatens regional and global peace.
“We must reiterate our commitment, as internationalists, to the protection of human rights around the world and to a genuinely international response to the situation in Kashmir.
“I will do all in my power to champion the human rights of the Kashmiri people against any attempts to curtail or abuse these rights. As a British of Kashmiri heritage myself, it is my duty to stand up for the self-determination of the Kashmiri people, a right promised by the United Nations but still denied.
“Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to work with international organisations to ensure a peaceful and mutually beneficial resolution to the conflict in Kashmir, a solution that puts the rights of the Kashmiri people at the forefront.
“The issue of Kashmir is a significant international issue, not a bi-lateral or constitutional issue between India and Pakistan, it is one that calls for a truly international response and a settlement in accordance with international law and norms.
“In south Asia the long drawn dispute of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, remains an hanging fire ball, between two hostile nuclear neighbours i.e India and Pakistan, and has been bringing human misery in the form of wars on the issue and the continues to threaten regional and global peace.
“By abrogation of special status of Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir and 5th of August 2019, India has audaciously defied the basic norms and principles underpinning the concepts of democracy and human freedom.
“The ongoing siege in Kashmir involves arbitrary arrests of hundreds of members of civil society including academics, teachers and ordinary citizens.
“Indian Army and paramilitary forces operating in the held Kashmir, have deliberately and methodically violated the fundamental human rights and international norms on human rights law, to which Indian Government is responsible, being signatory of these laws.
“In fact, the dispute about the State of Jammu and Kashmir is an issue of right of self-determination for the Kashmiri people. These rights are further secured and protected by the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights-1948’.
“The Labour Party is a proud internationalist Party and champion of human rights around the world. I believe that a commitment to international cooperation around the issues in Kashmir is the path most consistent with the internationalism of our Party.
“Furthermore, it is the only approach that can ensure the protection of the human rights of the Kashmiri people. The international community must not remain silent anymore.”
And on May 1 (a day after Starmer’s statements), Apsana Begum MP commented on the situation in Kashmir, making it clear that she condemns breaches of human rights.
She said: “The ongoing including torture, rape, extrajudicial execution and illegal detention, that continue to take place in Kashmir are also widely documented by numerous human rights organisations.
“Similarly many of us were utterly appalled at the scenes a few months in Delhi in which mobs set fire to mosques and businesses and invaded Muslim homes.
“Its no-coincidence that the latest violence broke out during Trump’s visit to India. This close relationship between Trump and Modi was evidenced in September last year in Houston, Texas when Modi addressed a packed audience of Indian Americans in the presence of Trump, accompanied by Republican governors of different states.
“Because at the crux of Modi’s agenda of ‘divide and rule’ is oppressive economic policies in light of the severe economic crisis, rising unemployment, inflation and brutal privatisation.”
Last week Keir Starmer moved Labour closer to India on the issue of the Kashmir after meeting with an India lobby group. Following the meeting with Labour Friends of India (LFIN) Starmer said the conflict was a “bilateral issue for India and Pakistan.”
This ran contrary to a motion passed at Labour’s 2019 conference, where Labour delegates passed a motion criticising the actions of India in the Kashmiri conflict, and said Kashmiris should have self-determination.
Reacting to the Muslim Labour MPs’ silence, Birmingham-based Kashmiri activist Shakeel Afsar called their lack of action “disgraceful.”
He told 5Pillars: “How disgraceful these people are. And it’s a shame on us that we have elected representatives who when we need them to talk are absolutely silent. It’s disgraceful, they are not representing us, they are merely towing the party line, they are merely safeguarding their incomes and their fame.”
He added: “They are selling out the shaheeds in Kashmir and those who have fought and struggled for 70 years. And they are selling out those who have protested in the UK. They are more interested in political gain and their careers.”
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.