MUZAFFARABAD: Visiting British lawmakers speak to the media at the President House on Thursday.—Dawn
MUZAFFARABAD: Visiting British lawmakers speak to the media at the President House on Thursday.—Dawn

MUZAFFARABAD: A delegation of British parliamentarians on Thursday expressed gratitude to the governments of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) for affording them extensive courtesy and free access to visit “anyone, anywhere”, in contrast to the conduct of the Indian government.

“Seventy-two years is a long time and we can’t allow the tragedy that has befallen Kashmiri people to continue in this way and particularly after the 5th of August last year,” said delegation leader MP Debbie Abrahams at a brief interaction with journalists at the President House, after a meeting with AJK President Sardar Masood Khan.

The Labour MP, who is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir (APPGK) in the British Parliament, was flanked by other members of the delegation, including Labour MPs Imran Hussain, Tahir Ali and Judith Cummins, Tory MPs Sarah Britcliffe, James Daly and Mark Eastwood, Lib Dem politician and lifetime peer Qurban Hussain and Labour councillors Harpreet Uppal and Yasmine Dar.

On Monday, MP Abrahams was denied entry by the Indian authorities for her criticism of India’s controversial decision to revoke special status of occupied Kashmir in August last year.

“We are grateful to President [Masood] Khan and also to the Pakistani government for the open access that we have had to any group that we have requested to meet,” she told the media.

“This tour is very important as we are here to meet people, to get their experiences and we had hope that we will be afforded the same courtesy on the India side,” she said.

“We are an independent all-party parliamentary group and our focus in the last couple of years has been on human rights and on Kashmiri people. We are playing our part not just in the (UK) Parliament but also trying to influence the international community as a whole,” she said of APPGK.

She said the group was concerned about human rights on both sides of the LoC but what was reassuring was the access to different groups and people across AJK over the next couple of days.

“We are being provided that independent and authentic voice of people’s experiences. This is absolutely essential, if we have to make progress and ensure that we have a sustainable peace across Kashmir.”

In reply to a question, Ms Abrahams blamed the Indian leadership for the treatment meted out to her in Delhi.

“…We need to be clear that this is about the Indian authorities and the current (Indian) leadership and it is disappointing,” she said.

“They are the largest democracy in the world and it’s not the sign of a healthy democracy,” she said.

Nevertheless, she added: “I don’t bear grudges and I hope they will change their mind and at some stage we will be able to visit (India-occupied) Jammu and Kashmir as well.”

MP Hussain said the APPGK had always desired to visit both sides of the LoC.

“Tragically, the Indian government did not allow us this time as well to visit the other side of the LoC,” he said.

Referring to the delegation’s meetings with PM Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and AJK leaders, he said the “frank discussions” had helped them have clarity to a great extent.

“We wanted to have same clarity on the other side as well, but we were not allowed.”

Talking about continued detentions under draconian laws in the India-held region amid continued curfew and communication blockade, MP Hussain said that if the Indian government had nothing to hide then it should allow the APPKG team to visit the other side of the LoC.

“Today we repeat this request from here. We are still willing to visit the other side…. because human rights are an international issue and can never be a bilateral issue and we as the all-party parliamentary group would continue to raise our voice against persecution, oppression and injustice wherever that happens,” he said.

Echoing his views in a different way, Ms Abrahams asked the international community to come together and be “pro-human rights”.

“There is no price of human rights. Trade should not be done at the expense of human rights,” she said.

Responding to a question, she said the APPGK members would use whatever hours they had in the parliament and whatever opportunities they got to raise the issue of Kashmir on the floor of the house.

“But, it’s more important as to how we can influence our colleagues in other parliaments to take a similar view. It’s all by concerted efforts we are going to make a difference.”

Earlier, the AJK president expressed his gratitude to the AAPGK for its untiring efforts for cessation of human rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir and grant of right to self-determination to the Kashmiri people for a peaceful settlement of the issue.

“I pay tribute to Ms Abrahms for advocating the cause of Kashmir in the parliament and elsewhere,” he said.

Before departing for Islamabad, the delegation also visited the LoC in Chakothi sector, where they were given briefing on unrelenting ceasefire violations by the Indian army.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020