SHADOW FOREIGN SECRETARY SETS OUT POLICY ON KASHMIR AND BLUESTAR INQUIRY
by AMIT ROY
SHADOW foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has condemned Pakistan for conducting terrorist attacks on India and also said a future Labour government would hold India to account for any human rights abuses in Kashmir.
In an interaction with the Indian Journalists’ Association (IJA) in London last Friday (20), Thornberry expressed misgivings about British Pakistanis engaging in terrorist activities in the UK after going to Pakistan to receive military training.
“I do have every sympathy for the nation of India who are suffering terrorist attacks in the way that you do and so many of those terrorist attacks do seem to come from Pakistan and I have every sympathy for that and every understanding,” she said.
Thornberry said she did not want to go down the route of depicting Pakistan as a terrorist state.
“I don’t think it would be right to call Pakistan – as a state – a terrorist state,” the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury said.
However, “there are a number of very profound problems with the state of Pakistan at the moment, clearly,” acknowledged Thornberry, whose uncompromising comments will not please Pakistani-origin MPs and councillors in the Labour party in such areas as West Yorkshire, Manchester, Birmingham and Luton.
Pointing out the many problems Pakistan has with other countries, the Labour frontbencher said: “It isn’t just the relationship with India, it isn’t just that individuals travel from Pakistan or seem to travel from Pakistan and are involved in attacks in India. There is also the relationship with Afghanistan and indeed historically we have people going to training camps in Pakistan and coming back to the UK and being involved or trying to be involved in terrorist attacks in the UK.”
“So the stability and strength of Pakistan is in all our interests and there is ongoing concern about the state of Pakistan,” she said.
On relations with India, Thornberry revealed that she had written the references to Kashmir and Operation Blue Star in Labour’s election manifesto earlier this year.
It had said: “We will also urge negotiations towards a political resolution in all other regions currently experiencing conflict, including Kashmir, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.”
The manifesto also added: “Labour remains committed to an independent inquiry into Britain’s military role in the 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar.”
The latter, known as Operation Blue Star, is considered a very sensitive subject because it led to prime minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by two of her own Sikh bodyguards and subsequently a pogrom against Sikhs in Delhi.
Most British Indian voters will probably question the wisdom of the Labour party getting involved in either Kashmir or Blue Star. There are those in the Indian government who fear that this will lead to a “rupture in relations” with India.
But Thornberry told Indian journalists that Labour, in power, would seek to pursue an ethical foreign policy.
“A Labour government would insist that trade development and human rights are all inseparable parts of the same conversation,” she argued.
“We are simply affirming as a matter of policy and as a matter of principle that democracy, human rights and sustainable development should be fully embedded as part of any trade negotiations,” she added. “And under Labour that’s what would happen.”
On Kashmir, she commented: “I may be completely misjudging the situation, but it does seem to me that any British Indians that I meet would have great difficulty in not agreeing that we need to find a peaceful resolution in Kashmir. The situation is not one that can continue – it needs to be sorted out.”
“Of course, it does,” she emphasised. “But it is not for us – the British – to start telling the Indians and Pakistanis how to resolve the situation, but it is our place to keep saying it does need to be resolved. And it needs to be resolved in a peaceful manner. And this is not radical – this is just common sense. What I am saying in relation to Kashmir is not unreasonable.”
On Blue Star, Thornberry said: “There is an enduring feeling of injustice amongst Sikh people around the world and a concern about British involvement in the deaths in Amritsar and so it is a question of transparency and wanting to get to the truth and so I think it is very difficult for the many Sikh people to just let it drop.
“Too many people were killed and the allegations against the British in terms of what our involvement was remains unresolved and so it is a difficult and sensitive issue, but we should not run away from it.
“There has been an investigation under David Cameron but I don’t think that it was published, was it? The problem is what is being held back, what is not being held back, what has been found out, what hasn’t been found out. I think there needs to be fresh eyes on that – people are very suspicious that the way in which David Cameron tried to resolve it and it was felt that he made a lot of promises and then pulled back on it. And I think we need to look at that again.”