Kashmir: present situation and future prospects
Delivered in Plenary - 24th May 2007
The tragic and bloody dispute over the beautiful Himalayan territory of the former princely state of Kashmir between the two great south-Asian countries of India and Pakistan is one of the oldest in the world, going right back to UN Security Council resolutions 39 and 47 of 1948.
I strongly support the Nicholson report, and I congratulate the rapporteur on its content and quality, after considerable rebalancing during the committee stage, both in tone and in terms of its approach. The report is accurate and primarily recognises that current ongoing bilateral confidence-building talks between the Indian and Pakistani Governments remain the best strategy to achieve a just and enduring peace between these two nuclear-armed states. My British colleague, Mr Bushill-Matthews, who alone voted against it in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, informs me that he will now be supporting the report, which indicates how it has progressed during its various stages.
Mercifully, since the agreed ceasefire on 25 November 2003, we are now witnessing one of the most peaceful periods in terms of military action since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war: a ceasefire that has survived serious provocations to the Government of India, including the Mumbai terrorist bombings. Nevertheless, Kashmiri Pandits still continue to claim that cross-border infiltrating terrorists are attempting a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the local Hindu population, albeit it on a vastly reduced scale.
Similarly, the report rightly calls for restraint by the Indian military, with full respect by the security forces for human rights, the wellbeing of civilian populations and observance of issued court orders.
The report highlights the lack of genuine democracy in Azad Kashmir and, in particular, for the first time, the plight of the inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan. There are also general concerns expressed in AJK over a number of issues, including womenís rights and religious minority rights. I, and many colleagues, warmly welcomed in 2005 the launching of a bus service across the line of control between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad allowing divided families to be reunited after nearly 60 years, and it is my hope that, eventually, the borders, including the line of control, will be just a line on the map and become increasingly irrelevant.
We in the EU have already proved this with our four freedoms of movement of people, goods, services and capital. A similar future vision of a south-Asian economic community by 2025 will require free trade across the line of control. Both India and Pakistan, much to their credit, cooperated positively after the October Kashmir earthquake to provide humanitarian aid to thousands of victims and displaced people. But much remains to be done to resettle the displaced populations permanently.
The EUís role, in my opinion, is to support a peaceful settlement of the problem over the former princely state, with the EU willing to act as an honest broker for peace, but only if both sovereign governments ask for our help, as, ultimately, we regard the Kashmir dispute as a bilateral matter.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to repeat my appeal to all parties that support the militants waging a violent Jihad to stop their activities immediately.