UK Labour leader says party stands for the rights of Kashmiris


LONDON:    Labour leader Keir Starmer has offered to meet parliamentarians from Labour Friends of Kashmir after over 50 MPs and hundreds of elected councillors and activists defied the new Labour leader over his controversial comments on Indian occupied Kashmir.
In a letter to Andrew Gwynne MP, Chair of Labour Friends of Kashmir, Starmer said that he would like to meet the group and hear out their concerns in the wake of his controversial assertion that Indian occupied Kashmir “is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan.”
The letter was issued late on Friday after hundreds of Labour members, councillors and 50 MPs expressed their anger at Starmer’s statements made to the BJP and RSS-linked Hindu Forum of Britain and Labour Friends of India.
In the letter, Starmer insisted that Labour’s Kashmir policy remains consistent and there is no change in it.
“On some of the specific issues that you raise in your letter, I want to be clear that Labour’s policy towards Kashmir remains consistent in the belief that India and Pakistan must work together, with the people of Kashmir, to find a long-term peaceful solution to this ongoing conflict. Without this approach the hardship and violence that we have seen escalate over the past year will sadly only get worse,” he said.
Starmer added, “Labour will always speak out against human rights abuse and attacks on democracy, whenever and wherever they occur. I look forward to building a relationship with you. I hope you will take up my offer to meet with you and liaise with my team to find a suitable date. In the meantime, thank you once again for contacting me and raising the concerns of the communities that you represent, we will continue to work hard to reaffirm our commitment to stand up for the rights of the Kashmiri people in the most constructive and effective manner.”
Starmer said he was determined not to let the issue of Kashmir “divide our communities or our party”.
He added, “I would welcome a meeting with a delegation from Labour Friends of Kashmir in the near future to hear your views on how we as a party can continue to promote peace in the region and peace within our communities. I will also ensure that Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lisa Nandy, follows up on this correspondence and reaches out to you to discuss how we can ensure the voices of our Kashmiri communities contribute to Labour’s policy making processes.”
“Labour represents diverse communities across the country, and we do so with great pride in our achievements of bringing people together. I want to also assure you this was the same message that I gave to our colleagues from Labour Friends of India at my recent meeting with them. In everything we do, we should always seek to ease tensions and not increase them.”
On Thursday, 50 Labour Party parliamentarians had participated in a video conference with Starmer and told him his recent statement on Indian occupied Kashmir was unacceptable.
Earlier in the week, Gwynne had told Starmer that the nearly one-million strong British Kashmiri community is anguished after his controversial comments.
Gwynne had reminded the Labour leader that the Kashmir dispute is the subject of over a dozen outstanding United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions which grant Kashmiris the right to self-determination through “a free and impartial plebiscite”.
“It is a matter of international law, of which the United Kingdom has a specific interest at seeing the matter properly resolved within the terms of the UNSC resolutions (both as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and as the former colonial power which left the status of Kashmir ambiguous upon the granting of independence to India and Pakistan),” Gwynne added.