London: The new British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons that the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir following the lockdown of the region by the Modi government for over four weeks is “an international issue”.
Britain is a permanent member of the powerful United Nations Security Council, enjoying veto powers in it.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke to Raab on the phone last month. But it appears both he and diplomats at the Indian High Commission in London have been ineffective in convincing the United Kingdom to India’s point of view.
As soon as the UK parliament commenced proceedings on Tuesday after a long summer recess, a barrage of aggressive questions from around 15 MPs greeted Raab from all sections of the house on the Modi administration’s treatment of people in Kashmir following abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the severing of Ladakh from it and the downgrading of both from full statehood to union territory status.
The questioners included Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, who raised the matter of unlawful “detentions” by Indian authorities.
Replying to a question from Steve Baker, Conservative MP from Whycombe, Raab said, “The issue of human rights is not just a bilateral, or domestic issue for India or Pakistan — it is an international issue.”
He added, “We should, with all our partners, expect internationally recognised standards of human rights to be complied with and respected.”
Baker of course represents a constituency with an estimated 10,000 people of Pakistani origin and is likely to have been under pressure from a section of his constituents to put his question.
Anne Main, another Conservative MP, compared the state of affairs in Kashmir to the Rohingya crisis.
However, Raab repeatedly made statements which queried the BJP government’s democratic and human rights credentials.
“We are concerned about the situation in Kashmir…It is important that internationally recognised human rights are fully respected…There are duties owed to the international community at large, and we will certainly be scrutinising the situation carefully to see that those rights are respected…I raised concerns about the situation with Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar on August 7.”
Raab’s comment in the Commons amounted to a distinct ratcheting up of Britain’s concern about the Modi government’s move in Kashmir.
Last month, after Pakistan Prime minister Imran Khan phoned his UK counterpart Boris Johnson – both Oxonians – the latter’s office at 10, Downing Street described the circumstances in Kashmir as “a serious situation”.
After this there was seemingly a softening of stance, with the British Foreign Office clarifying, “The UK did not take sides in the UNSC debate on Kashmir, and did not side with China against India.”
Furthermore, on a telephone conversation between Johnson and Modi, Downing Street’s read-out of it said, “The Prime Minister made clear that the UK views the issue of Kashmir is one for India and Pakistan to resolve bilaterally.”
Clearly, Britain is no longer willing to remain silent on the matter.