British Parliamentarian Debbie Abrahams – who is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Kashmir Group (APPKG) in the House of Commons – on Wednesday said Pakistan's stance on the Kashmir issue reflected the country's openness and progressive approach to the dispute, expressing hope that India would "reciprocate".
A delegation of the APPKG, which is an independent group of parliamentarians from the United Kingdom, was scheduled to visit both sides of the Line of Control to evaluate the human rights situation in the region.
However, in a surprise move by Indian authorities, the British MP along with her delegation was denied entry into the country two days ago despite having a valid visa.
Speaking in Islamabad alongside Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and British MP Imran Hussain, Abrahams welcomed the foreign minister’s stance on having a third UN report issued on human rights violations along both sides of the LoC, adding that it showed the openness and progressive approach taken by Pakistan on this issue. "I hope India will reciprocate as well."
"We [the group] had a very full and frank discussion with the foreign minister. I am very grateful to him and to the Pakistani government for facilitating this independent trip of the group from the UK parliament.
"We sought to visit Pakistan and Azad Kashmir so that we could understand in more detail about what was happening and to speak with people there.
"We also sought to visit India and Jammu and Kashmir, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened. Hopefully it will happen in the future," she said.
Abrahams reiterated that Qureshi was very forthcoming about what was happening [in the region] even when "pressed for answers to specific questions that were raised in the last UN human rights report".
"When we were planning this trip, we wanted to make sure that the delegation visited both India and Jammu & Kashmir and had access in the same way we have been facilitated by the Pakistani government.
"But I have had no responses to my requests for a delegation to go to Jammu & Kashmir [on India's side]. I hope India will take the opportunity to reflect on Pakistan’s approach to addressing the issues that it has faced in different parts of the country and how they are responding to the report from the UN [...] and take the opportunity to become more open […] We are an independent group, we are not anti-India or pro-Pakistan, we are pro-human rights."
When asked what practical measures the group will undertake to end repression in the valley, she replied:
"Please don’t be under any illusion we are not doing that. Last week, I met with the British foreign minister […] and I know my Conservative colleagues who are part of this delegation will also be reporting back to their parties.
"What is going on in Jammu & Kashmir has not gone unnoticed. We are not here for a sightseeing trip, to look at what is happening and to do nothing. We are constantly raising this [...] we hope in addition to what we are doing through our government, the international community as a whole will realise that human rights is a priority and that priorities are not just about trade."
Meanwhile, the foreign minister, replying to a question from a reporter, said the Kashmir issue was not an "internal matter" as had been claimed by the Indian government.
"It was answered very well by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres [during his visit to Pakistan] when he categorically said that the Security Council resolutions are as relevant now as they used to be before," Qureshi said in response to a reporter's question.
"It is an internationally recognised dispute and the UN chief endorses that. He also said that he is concerned about human rights violations […]."
Commenting on a recent statement made by India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Qureshi said that the statement was his opinion and everyone had a right to one.
At the Munich Security Conference, the minister, in reply to US Senator Lindsey Graham saying the Kashmir issue should be resolved by two democracies, Jaishankar had said that the Kashmir issue will be settled by “one democracy and you know which one”.
“You said that one democracy will take an action. You have already taken that decision on August 5, 2019 and you can see the reaction to that decision,” Qureshi said in response to Jaishankar's comments from a few days ago.
"Today many organisations within India, as well as internal human rights groups are calling the Public Safety Act (PSA) draconian," the foreign minister said.
"Today, a huge segment of population within India […] are saying the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was a folly and has defaced the image of a secular, democratic India," he added.
Adding to the foreign minister's comments, APPKG Vice Chair MP Hussain said: "Human rights can never be bilateral issues, they are international issues for the international community and anybody reverting back from that point needs to go back and check the rule book.
"The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the PSA are both draconian pieces of legislation that are recognised, again in international laws, as illegal. We [the british government] cannot shy away from the issue, other governments have shied away from the issue [...] but we must be bolder," he added.