Driven by the imperatives of ties with India and Pakistan as well as the presence of large communities in the UK with origins in the two countries, Britain has been walking a tightrope on New Delhi making structural changes in the status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Unlike countries such as the United States, Russia and China, Britain has refrained from taking a firm stand on sensitive issue, beyond calling for calm, expressing concern and terming the situation in the state as ‘serious’ during an interaction with Prime Minister Imran Khan .
Representations on the issue have been made to Prime Minister Boris Johnson by influential individuals in the 1.5 million-strong Indian community as well as the nearly 1.4 million-strong Pakistani community in the UK.
Eight Labour MPs with origins in Pakistan wrote to Johnson, asking him to put principle before the UK’s trade relationship with India and speak up for the Kashmiri people. Johnson has often talked up trade ties with India after Brexit.
Conservative MP Bob Blackman also wrote to Johnson, criticising them for allegedly creating divisions among communities and insisting that the issue is India’s internal matter.
Besides the MPs, Labour’s shadow foreign office minister Liz McInnes criticised the changes, but the ruling Conservative party – keen to consolidate its growing outreach in the Indian community in recent years – did not comment.
The Johnson government’s ambivalence on the issue came in for sharp criticism in Sunday’s The Observer: “The US and EU reiterated their Delhi-appeasing view that Kashmir is a bilateral not an international issue. Britain’s response was feeble”.
“Dominic Raab, the neophyte foreign secretary, meekly thanked India for a ‘clear readout of the situation’…Not an iota of understanding that India’s enhanced military occupation may revive a conflict that weaponises religion, race and identity in place of democratic dialogue and inclusion”.
“If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the dog-eats-dog world created by Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and copycat ultra-nationalist ‘strongman’ leaders”.
Several protests have been held outside the Indian high commission, with more planned for August 15, independence day.
A large section of the British Pakistani community hails from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, including the Mirpur region, from where many migrated to the UK in the 1960s following the construction of the Mangla Dam.
According to Javid Kakroo of Kashmir Voice International – an organisation comprising individuals with origins in Jammu and Kashmir – there are nearly 10,000 people in the UK hailing from the state.