Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

EP encourages India and Pakistan to find peaceful and democratic agreement in Kashmir

Agence Europe - 29 May 2007

Strasbourg, 25/05/2007 (Agence Europe) - In a resolution adopted in Strasbourg on Thursday 24 May, the European Parliament welcomed the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan and encouraged them to find a solution to the Kashmir conflict, while criticising Pakistan for lack of progress on democracy and human rights. The resolution brought forward by Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne (ALDE, UK), noted the humanitarian disaster and the harmful socio-economic impact of the recent earthquake and called on the EU to consider favourably any further requests for assistance for reconstruction in the area, while also emphasising that the EU “take a firm stance in upholding the democracy and human rights clause in its agreements with both India and Pakistan”.

The Parliament welcomed the increase in the number of visas issued for travel between India and Pakistan, as well as the re-opening of truck and bus services, and hoped that all obstacles be removed so that all Kashmiris could travel freely in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It also argued for setting up exchange programmes, including a common University.

MEPs felt that the best way to resolve the conflict was by constant engagement between the governments of India and Pakistan, involving the peoples of all the regions. The report reaffirmed that “all peoples have the inalienable right of self-determination,” while pointing to the fact that “the pre-conditions for invoking the plebiscite have not been met at present”. MEPs also expressed their concerns over the “documented human rights violations by Pakistan” in Gilgit and Baltistan and at reports of torture and mistreatment, discrimination, and corruption in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The resolution also called on the Indian government to “put an end to all practices of extrajudicial killings, 'disappearances', torture and arbitrary detention in Jammu and Kashmir”, and to establish an independent commission of inquiry into serious violations of human rights by Indian security forces. MEPs called on both governments to allow international human rights groups access to the region to carry out investigations.

During the plenary debate on Wednesday 23 May, the rapporteur, Baroness Nicholson pointed out that, in Kashmir, the people had been suffering the consequences of this conflict for 60 years and that the situation had further worsened since the earthquake in October 2005. The European Commission took immediate steps to help the victims, noted Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and she said that reconstruction would probably last another five years. On the political level, there was no alternative to a sustainable peaceful solution through dialogue: greater involvement by the Kashmiri people would enhance this process and guarantee its legitimacy, she said.

Peace, democracy and well-being had to be brought back to the region, agreed those MEPs who took part in the debate, by encouraging dialogue “between two countries which possess nuclear weapons,” as noted British Conservative MEP Charles Tannock. This latter said that, while peace had not been restored, the ceasefire had allowed a certain respite. The lack of genuine democracy is a problem and German Social Democrat Jo Leinen highlighted this, stressing that human rights violations had to be stopped. India and Pakistan had thrice gone to war over Kashmir, Mr Leinen said, just like France and Germany over Alsace and Lorraine, today a peaceful and prosperous region. According to Hungarian MEP Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, zero tolerance was the only possible attitude towards terrorism in Kashmir, and he acknowledged that the Pakistani government was trying to stamp out extremism. Efforts were required from both sides, however.

German Green MEP Cem Özdemir said that the region had to be demilitarised: “it's not more weapons that are needed, but fewer”. British Conservative MEP James Ellis said that all obstacles to Kashmiris' being able to travel in their state should be removed and that there should be demilitarisation. He quoted the arguments set out in the weekly “The Economist” for demilitarisation, including the psychological effect on the Kashmiri population, which views the Indian military presence, not as protection, but as an “oppressive curse”. British MEP Elizabeth Lynne (ALDE) was critical of the report's concentration on the “shortcomings” of the Pakistani government in Pakistan rather than the errors it was making in Kashmir. British Conservative Sajjad Karim went further: the solution could only be “self-determination, self-determination, self-determination”. The EU had to support the process, contributing to reconstruction and democracy, but without supporting any particular option. British Labour MEP, Richard Howatt, was highly critical of the rapporteur: she wanted to adopt a “do no harm” approach, but, he said, with this report, “she has only done harm”.