Don’t let “Asia’s Switzerland” disappear from the international agenda

It’s been variously described as “Asia’s Switzerland,” “the most beautiful prison in the world,” and “the oldest unresolved international conflict in the world.” It is the disputed region of Jammu Kashmir.

It is one of the most militarised areas in the world. India and Pakistan both claim the state as their own, while many locals want an independent Kashmiri state. There are regular exchanges of fire between the forces of the two nuclear powers across the Line of Control. There are regular – often disputed – claims of atrocities.

I spoke last weekend at a meeting in Derby organised by the Jammu Kashmir Self Determination Movement, an organisation I’ve worked with for over three years.

Kashmir is complex, but certain principles are clear for me and for my Labour colleagues in the European Parliament. We condemn all acts of violence and the abuse of human rights which brings such suffering to the population, and we call for an end to all external support for violence in Kashmir.

We are clear that a durable settlement in Kashmir must be based on democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights. We are also clear that a solution in Kashmir must involve the wishes of the peoples who live there, a principle enshrined in the United Nations Resolution of 1948, which stated that “both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite.”

Europe can help, based on our own past experience of successful conflict resolution in a multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-faith context. Our own values of respect for regional identities, and taking decisions as close as possible to the citizen, are relevant to Kashmir.

Later this year, the Socialist & Democrat Group in the European Parliament will be organising a key conference in Brussels to try and progress some of the key issues. The conference will include representatives from Jammu Kashmir itself as well as the wider Kashmiri community. In addition to Parliamentarians we also intend inviting Cathy Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

The conference is expected to focus on EU funding to Jammu Kashmir, present human rights violations and how the EU can help, and the future for Kashmir – how the EU can promote democracy and self-determination.

There are many places in the world which compete for international attention; Syria, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, North Korea. These are all, of course, important, but we must not let them push Kashmir either out of the public gaze nor off the world’s political agenda.

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