By Grahame Anderson

Sir Keir Starmer’s recent statement in which he appears to change the party’s stance on the Kashmiri problem, has met with discord among communities here in Britain. It’s also served to draw criticism from sections of his own party, having changed course from the approach taken by former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The new Labour leader said: “We must not allow issues of the sub-continent to divide communities here. Any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully.”

Political Distancing

It was a statement clearly aimed at distancing himself from Mr Corbyn’s criticism of Indian atrocities condemning Narendra Modi’s actions against Kashmiris and the humanitarian crisis faced by nearly eight million Kashmiris.

A Labour Party conference motion under Mr Corbyn called for an international team of observers to enter the region, noting the “enforced disappearance of civilians”, and “the overall prevalence of human rights violations.

Atrocities include communication restrictions now in existence for nine months, detention of Kashmiris without any legal charges being brought, and the killing of Muslims in Delhi.

London’s vice-chair of the Labour Party, Seema Chandwani, told the media Starmer “cannot meet with an unaffiliated unaccountable group of people and change the conference position on Kashmir unilaterally”.

Bradford Focus

Bradford has the largest Pakistani Kashmiri population in the UK, many strong supporters of Labour. His comments following a meeting with the executive team of the Labour Friends of India or LFIN, however, have only served to add to the pressure lobbyists are already applying to Mr Starmer.

Bradford East Labour MP Imran Hussain has said: “For my entire adult life, I have fought fiercely for the realisation of the sons and daughters of Kashmir’s right to self-determination, as mandated by decades old UN Security Council Resolutions, and my record in Parliament is clear for all to see. I will continue this fight until Kashmiris are free to choose and shape their own destiny, and their 70 year wait to do so is finally brought to an end.

Bradford East MP Imran Hussain

“I will never cease to condemn the barbaric and well-documented human rights abuses, persecution and injustices that are faced on a daily basis by Kashmiris living under a brutal military occupation. We have a duty to speak out against such abuses towards other human beings, wherever in the world they take place, and I will continue my call for those who subject others to torture, extra-judicial killing, rape, illegal detention, and draconian blockades to be held accountable for their crimes.”

Labour Condemnation

Many on the left of the party have already condemned what to them looks like a bowing down before the Indian lobby linked with the Hindutwa Bahartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Asian Sunday has learned Labour MPs Debbie Abrahams and Sarah Owen, chairwoman and vice-chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on Kashmir, will talk to Mr Starmer via video conference this week to discuss the situation.

Our sources say they’ll be joined by a number of British Pakistani MPs demanding the Labour leader explains his remarks and withdraws what they say is a factually wrong appeasement policy, towards what amounts to state terrorism of the Indian government on Kashmir.

In an open letter circulated on social media at the weekend signed by Labour members of many religious and non-religious backgrounds, it was cited Mr Starmer’s statement had caused them “grave concern.”

It also said: “Many of us supported your leadership campaign in light of your promise to continue the very successful policy direction implemented under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, which included a firm commitment to an ethical foreign policy.”

Coalition Pressure

The Organisation of Kashmir Coalition has written to Mr Starmer stating his stance would seem to be in total contravention of the Labour Party’s policy, manifesto and various resolutions on the conflict of Jammu and Kashmir. We also believe the OKC will also write to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson ‘in terms that under the Covid-19 guise, the Indian government continues its terror in J&K.’

A Clear Message

Mr Starmer added: “A Labour Government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India and to co-operate on the global stage on issues such as climate change. I look forward to meeting the Indian High Commissioner in due course to open a renewed dialogue between the Labour Party and the people of India.”

Whatever the outcome there seems little doubt the leadership honeymoon for Mr Starmer is clearly over.