In the general snap elections held in the United Kingdom, five of the six hundred fifty parliamentarians have their roots in Kashmir. Seven Pakistanis have also made it to the House of Commons, the lower house of Britain.
Hundreds of Kashmiris, from Mirpur city of Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK), are living in Britain for long and have been occupying major positions in the UK parliament.
The UK parliament has two houses, The Lower House and the Upper House known as The House of Commons and The House of Lords, respectively.
The House of Commons has 650 members and the elections are held after every 5 years.
In 2010 elections, three Members of Parliament (MPs) of Kashmiri origin had won seats in the elections, Shabana Mehmood, Khalid Mehmood and Atta-ur-Rehman Chishti.
In 2015 elections, the three MPs again won their seats. Apart from the trio, three more Kashmiri MPs won the elections then: Naz Shah (actual name: Naseem Shah), Imran Hussain and Nusrat Ghani.
However, according to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, an election had not been due until 7 May 2020. But the British Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party, Theresa May passed a resolution to snap the elections in 2017, three years prior to the actual date to get her party an absolute authority over decision making. The two-third majority of the house was with her decision and hence, the parliament got dissolved, leading to the fresh election on June 9.
This time, five Kashmiri MPs have won seats in the UK parliament in the House of Commons. These include Mohammad Yasin, Barrister Imran Hussain, Khalid Mehmood, Rahman Chishti and Naz Shah who hail from different parts of Pakistan Administered Kashmir.
Shabana, Khalid and Chishti have been consistent winners since 2010.
As far as the presence of Kashmiri origin MPs in the UK parliament is considered, what they might be able to do depends on the powers of the house there have been elected for i.e. the Lower House or The House of the Commons.
Since, PM May lost 12 seats in Parliament, when just two months ago they reasonably hoped to gain nearly 100. They’re still the largest party — having won 318 out of 650 total seats — but no longer hold a majority. Hence, for now it’s a ‘hung Parliament’ as no party controls most of the Parliament. It infers that the largest party keeps control of the government, but cannot pass any major laws.
When it comes to Kashmir based MPs, in April this year, a six-member group of British parliamentarians called for an early solution to the Kashmir issue in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions and as per the aspirations of its people. Hence, the possibility of raising the K-issue is high. What remains to be seen is how impact-full will that voice be.
A prominent Kashmiri Human Rights Activist Khurram Parvez told Free Press Kashmir that the MPs including Pak-origin MPs are sympathetic towards the Kashmir cause. The MPs, he added, whenever they get an opportunity, discuss Kashmir in the London Parliament.
“It’s a welcome step that Kashmiris are participating in the elections, winning them and wanting the UK government to take a position on Kashmir. It would be helpful in the longer run. Because of the presence of Kashmir/Pakistan-based MPs in the parliament, the Kashmir issue has been resonating in the London parliament.
In fact, after Pakistan’s Parliament, if the Kashmir dispute has been discussed the most anywhere else, it is in the London Parliament,” said Khurram adding that the reason behind this is the presence of Kashmiri diaspora in the UK that include the British Mirpuris and Kashmiris from PaK.
“The other reason is also that the UK was responsible for this mess as well. So, the people there also make them accountable (as to what is happening regarding this cause),” he added.
“The more the presence of Kashmiris in these parliaments, the more beneficial would it be for the Kashmir cause,” said Khurram pointing that at max, the issue would be discussed in the UK parliament which would build an international pressure on India. However, he said, the UK cannot implement anything in Kashmir.
“When we talk about the resolution, the discussion that would be held in the UK parliament or the parliament of the European Union will build an international pressure on India as well as Pakistan. For us, it gives us an international platform to discuss the political issues/ Human Rights violations in Kashmir,” said Khurram.
Concluding his remarks, he also said, “Ultimately, the government of India is in denial. And they have the control here (over Kashmir). They don’t consider the UN’s resolutions, what difference would the UK parliament make for them! However, for the pressure building and international embarrassment, it is going to make an impact.”
The pro freedom leaders in Kashmir are also hopeful that these MPs will raise the voice of Kashmiris in the UK parliament and hence, ‘strengthen the Kashmir Freedom Struggle.’
All Parties Hurriyat Conference (M) Chairperson, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, noted that their presence in the UK parliament “would help raise the Kashmir dispute” while calling for a permanent settlement to bring peace and security in South Asia.
“It really is a good news for the oppressed people of IOK that five MPs are from AJK who obviously would feel our pain and will try their best to highlight the Kashmir dispute for a final settlement as per the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” Farooq said.
On the same lines, Chairman Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Mohammad Yasin Malik told Free Press Kashmir that Kashmiris there have already been working for the Kashmir cause since a long time and that “they will raise the issue further, now that they have entered a larger forum.”
“More than 5 lakh Kashmiris live in Britain. In fact, the JKLF was formed there. They have already been working for Kashmir. Lord Qurban, a founding member of the JKLF had fought elections in the UK parliament 10 years back and lost by just 4000 votes. Kashmiris have an electoral strength there. And now their voices will be heard in the parliament. It will benefit the Kashmir movement and strengthen it,” said Malik.
Talking about the win of Pakistani origin MPs, Chaudhry Muhammad Yaseen, leader of the Opposition party in the PaK Legislative Assembly said, “It is great to see our brothers and sister Shah back on the benches in UK’s House of Commons.”
“I hope that the newly elected MPs will raise the Kashmir dispute and human rights violations committed by the Indian armed forces in Occupied Kashmir,” he added.
“I know all these 12 MPs who are the staunch supporters of Kashmiris’ right of self-determination,” Yaseen observed.
Apart from the five Kashmiri MPs, others of Pakistani-origin who were elected on June 8 include Shabana Mahmood, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan and Yasmin Qureshi. Afzal Khan from Gorton area of Manchester and Muhammad Yaseen from Bendford were elected on Labour Party’s tickets for the first time.
Congratulating the new MPs, PaK Assembly Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir urged upon them to raise the Kashmir issue in the UK parliament and hold debates “on the current situation of Kashmir, violation of human rights and the murder of innocent Kashmiri youth in custody”.
“The government of AJK will meet with all these MPs to brief them about the latest situation in Kashmir and the ceasefire violations along the LoC where Indian occupying troops target the civilian population,” Speaker Qadir said, adding that they would also raise the issue of unmarked graves, enforced disappearances and political prisoners in Kashmir.
Across the Line of Control, a prominent Kashmiri leader Mushaal Hussain Mullick termed the elections as a “big achievement”.
“It is a good day for Pakistan and Kashmiris that our sons and daughters are in the UK parliament. It is time to engage them to highlight the Kashmir dispute. We should remain in contact with these new MPs to approach the UK think tanks, NGOs and other global organisations based in London to expose Indian state terrorism in IOK,” she observed.
“Pakistan and Kashmiris can reach out to other elected representatives and lobbyists in the UK through these MPs to remind the world community and United Nations of their role in settling the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” she said.
Moreover, the aid agencies work on the areas regarding which resolutions are passed in the European Union or the UK parliament. The funding of these aid agencies/ international organisation is allocated based on the discussions held in the parliaments.
“In the European Commission’s assembly, the issues are discussed and then a mandate is given as to which areas are to be worked on. For now, the European Union has stopped the funding in India as it looks like a developed country to them. ‘Save the Children NGO’ is working for children and recently, pellet victims in Kashmir were worked upon. The funding of Actionaid and Handicap International- International Non-Governmental Organisations has been stopped here,” said Naseer Ahmad, an official at the ActionAid NGO.
He also said that if the MPs raise the Kashmir issue, the international organisations may be allocated funds to start working in Kashmir again.
Apart from the UK parliament, Kashmir is being discussed in the Norway and Dutch Parliaments. The political participation of Kashmiris is increasing at the large forums like these parliaments. Despite all this, the Indian diaspora is also present in the UK parliament, counter-lobbying every now and then (“We don’t need the third party intervention,” they had said). What is to be seen is that whose lobbying would be impactful and will anything change on the ground or not.
Who are the five MPs:
Mohammad Yasin: Winning the seat of Bedford from the conservatives in the 2017 General Elections, Mohammad Yasin is a candidate of the labour party. He won 46% of the vote which translates to 22,712 individual votes cast in his favour.
Barrister Imran Hussain: Belonging to the labour party, he has for the first time won Bradford East. Hussain is a Lawyer, and a deputy leader of the Bradfor Counsil. He was defeated by George Galloway in the 2012 by-election in Bradford West. This year he has succeeded by defeating David Ward, who is a Liberal Democrat.
Khalid Mehmood: Mehmood was part of the campaign against banning the veil in a Birmingham college. He is from the Labour Party, and has been in the Parliament for over a decade now. Mehmood is a former engineer and a trade unionist.
Atta-ur-Rehman Chishti: A Lawyer, Rehman Chishti is a Conservative Party politician and was re-elected from Gillingham and Rainham, a Kent constituency, for the second time. A Muzaffarabad man is the son of Abdul Rehman Chishti, then Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Federal Adviser on religious affairs.
Naz Shah: She won Bradford West for Labour party, wresting the seat from George Galloway of the Respect Party. Her actual name is Naseem Shah. She has faced a crisis at a young age, and did menial jobs to manage her family’s survival. She gradually got the social recognition that eventually paid her when she made it to the House of Commons.