Keir Starmer has caused concern and outrage amongst the Kashmiri communities across the U.K with his recent intervention on the topic of self-determination.
The backlash comes as a result of comments made when the new Labour leader met with the executive team of the Labour Friends of India (LFIN) in late April. Starmer said:
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.https://labourlist.org/2020/04/keir-starmer-repositions-labour-on-kashmiri-conflict/
The comments appear to represent an attempt by the leadership to re-build bridges with the British Indian community after ‘strained’ relations under Jeremy Cobryn according to the LFIN. The shift in rhetoric by the Labour Party is clear considering a motion passed at Labour’s 2019 Conference said the people of Kashmir should be given the right to self-determination, a sentiment supported by then Party Chairman who confirmed the Party’s position as being one which supports the right of the Kashmiri people ‘to decide their own fate.’
The Kashmiri Crisis: A Background
As Aaron Bastani of Novara Media pointed out: “Referring to the Kashmir crisis as a ‘bilateral issue’ between Pakistan and India – rather than a matter of self-determination for the people of the region – is at odds with a human rights framework.” There is a long running history with regards to the region, which local Worcester City Councillor Jabba Riaz explained to Worcestershire Transformed:
The partition of 1947 of the Indian Subcontinent into Pakistan and India disregarded the state of Jammu and Kashmir – as it was a princely state it was left to its own devices wherein, the Kashmiris would decide their future for themselves, i.e. to cede to either India or Pakistan or remain independent.
Soon after formation of the two new nations – India invaded Kashmir totally ignoring and trampling on the rights of the Kashmiri people and enforcing its own rule on the Valley.
The people of Kashmir want their voice to be heard in light of the UN commitment made in 1949 to self-determination through free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the UN .
Since 1949 the people of Kashmir have been fighting for their right to self-determination.Councillor Jabba Riaz
This is a sentiment echoed by Basharat Ali, a local Worcester resident who was born in Kashmir. When Basharat was eight years old his father was killed by the Indian Army.
Firstly, Kashmiris are not chattel to be bargained between two neighbours, both countries brought the matter to the UN in 1948 and both countries agreed to the UN resolutions and both countries made commitments to the right of self determination.
Even the ascension document India talks about was conditional on a plebiscite/referendum.
By any definition India and Pakistan have failed to resolve Kashmir peacefully and the current trajectory can only lead to a war between two nuclear-armed neighbours.Basharat Ali – Kashmiri and Worcester Resident
Political Implications for Labour
The headache for the Labour leader doesn’t end there, as the policy shift has implications for more than just foreign policy. In response to Starmer’s comments, over 100 mosques have said they would support a call to abstain from voting Labour. Novara Media have reported that activists in Birmingham told them the Labour leader’s comments have cast a serious shadow over the Party’s chances of winning next year’s West Midlands Mayoral election.
Councillor Riaz remarked whilst Worcester’s Kashmiri community in Worcester is smaller than in Birmingham, this change in policy could have a significant electoral impact.
All the members of the Kashmiri Community in Worcester I have spoken to are extremely disturbed by how Keir Starmer has chosen to distance himself with his predecessor Corbyn’s position at a time when India has stepped up its brutal occupation and human rights abuses.
The right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people needs to be upheld and enforced via implementation of UN plebiscites.Councillor Jabba Riaz
The local councillor gave a four-point plan for how Labour Party activists can challenge the leadership on the change in rhetoric regarding Kashmir and how the Party can ensure bridges aren’t burned with the local Kashmir community.
1. Meet local Kashmiris and explain the Labour party policy vis-a-vis the Kashmiri right to self-determination and implementation of the UN plebiscites.
2. Explain what impact Starmer’s statement has on Labour party policy.
3. Explain how Kashmiris can trust the Labour party when its leader fails to comprehend the Kashmiri cause in full – while reducing it to a simple bilateral issue, ignoring the Kashmiri people’s wishes.
4, Explain what the Labour party intends to do to help the people of Kashmir work towards establishment of the plebiscite.Councillor Jabba Riaz
Further Reading on the Kashmiri Crisis:
- Kashmir: The Case for Freedom by Tariq Ali, Hilal Bhatt, Angana P. Chatterji, Pankaj Mishra, and Arundhati Roy [Book]
- “Kashmir Has Been Turned Invisible” by Samreen Mushtaq and Mudasir Amin [Article]
- Starmer Turns His Back on Kashmir by Ilyas Nagdee [Article]
- The Crisis in Kashmir by Kavita Krishnan [Article]