Britain is in the midst of its own crisis, and has been since June 2016. It is evident that they have forgotten about some of the more important issues facing the world and not just the country, such as the conflict in Kashmir.
As commonwealth partners, what can they do to help alleviate the concerns of the Indian and Pakistani diaspora groups that reside in the UK?
The Indian diaspora is the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom, which makes them the sixth largest in the world of Indian diaspora groups. Whereas the whole of Europe is home to the largest Pakistani diaspora in the world. Prominent Political figures of Pakistani descent include the current chancellor and Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, Sajid Javid plus former Labour MEP and now MP for Manchester Gorton, Afzal Khan. Some prominent figures of Indian descent include the current Home Secretary and MP for Witham, Priti Patel and the Labour MP for Ealing Southall, Virendra Sharma. All of these people use their voice in one way or another to speak on the situation in Kashmir, or have done so in the past.
The conflict in Kashmir has been ongoing since 1947 but has only gained our attention over the last few decades with fighting intensifying and diplomacy between India, Pakistan and partner countries deteriorating. Freedom for those in Kashmir has been under threat due to restrictions placed on citizens by the Indian government, and the British Conservative majority government are yet to respond to the latest freedom crackdown in Kashmir following the revocation of article 370. Why is this?
Britain has its own large Indian and Pakistani diaspora communities in cities such as Bristol, London and Birmingham and these troubles have began to spill onto the streets of London, with protest after protest outside the Indian High Commission in London. In turn, the British government does not seem to be responding to the concerns of its own citizens. People travelled for as long as five hours to join the most recent protest outside the High Commission of India. A part of the Kashmir Scholar’s network, Dr Brännlund, among many other scholars and activists has called for a United Nations-led humanitarian intervention in Kashmir, but this hasn’t happened.
Dr Emma Brännlund, the co-programme leader for Politics and International Relations at University of The West of England in Bristol is a specialist in this subject and teaches her students across all years and modules about it, using knowledge she has gained through her own research. According to an article Dr Brännlund wrote for E-IR, up until 2016, 70,000 people have been killed and many more have been injured, tortured or deported as a direct result of the conflict in Kashmir. People protesting over this issue in cities with a diaspora community don’t feel like they are being heard, and they need to make their voices heard where possible, and peaceful protest is the only way of getting the High Commissioners to listen. The British government is not dealing with this in the sensitive and compassionate way that it should. Instead, its primary focus has been on exiting the European Union rather than addressing pressing world issues such as the Kashmir conflict, which implicates India and Pakistan.
The British government has been too busy dealing with its own issues, such as Brexit and the NHS staffing crisis, so much so, that it seems to have forgotten that it has a Foreign Aid and International Development department which are meant to deal with precisely such issues. Since the election in 2019, which gave the Conservatives an overall majority, there has been no mention of sending part of the British foreign aid budget, and representatives from The Department of International Development out to Kashmir, with the aim of attempting to alleviate tensions between the territories, India and Pakistan.
Women in these communities are suffering the most. They are unable to get access to essential medical supplies, education and the money needed to be able to escape from the violence which is impacting their lives. Children’s education has also been affected, with schools targeted daily by violence and unrest. As a commonwealth partner, the British government ought to be doing more to help those in immediate danger.
Now the election is over and the Conservatives have a majority government. If they continue to do nothing to help their commonwealth neighbours, then it is up to the general public, activists and scholars to put the conflict on the political agenda and get decisions made to help the people in Kashmir who are suffering through no fault of their own.