Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A meeting with Baroness Emma Nicholson

A meeting with Baroness Emma Nicholson
Dr Shabir Choudhry 04 May 2007

Only those people make history who shine out in crises - take a firm stand on principles, especially to protect rights of other fellow human beings, or do something- good or bad which affects lives of others. Name of Lord Mountbatten in this context will be remembered in modern Kashmiri and Pakistani history, and in view of many, for all the wrong reasons.

His ‘pro Congress attitude’, inequitable decisions and ‘neck break speed’ resulted in chaos and destruction that led to worst communal riots in history of the Indian Sub Continent which brought death and misery to millions of people. As a result of wrong decisions taken in 1940s people of the region still continue to suffer; and people of Jammu and Kashmir are among those who have paid very heavy price for the wrong decisions of 1940s.

After Lord Mountbatten, Baroness Emma Nicholson is the first European politician to have made a mark on the history of Kashmir, and unlike Mountbatten, in very positive way. Many commentators believe by producing an excellent report on Kashmir, she has won minds and hearts of many thinking Kashmiris, especially those who hail from areas of Gilgit and Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, and those who love their motherland rather than their neighbours. Majority of those Kashmiris who opposed the report, either didn’t read it, didn’t understand it or were shouting foul because of political and other reasons.

I am proud to have a good working relationship with politician of her stature, and strongly feel that she must be supported in her endeavours to help forcibly divided and oppressed people of former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. In my last meeting with her she said: as a democrat and a friend of Kashmiri people I strongly believe that they deserve to enjoy fruits of democracy and live in peace and harmony. They have every right to enjoy all human rights and practise what they believe in all parts of Kashmir with dignity and honour.

It was also good to learn that Pakistani diplomats and other officials give her more importance and respect now, and this was clearly evident in official and unofficial functions organised by Pakistanis in London. Perhaps they have, at last, realised that it was not good diplomacy to demonise and intimidate notable British politician; or perhaps they have understood that she wasn’t anti Pakistan; and all she wanted to do was to highlight the plight of Kashmiri people suffering on both sides of the LOC.

She expressed surprise at the attitude of those politicians who preach democracy for their own people but take different view when it comes to rights of people of Jammu and Kashmir. In private meetings they agree that democracy is the bed - rock of freedom and fundamental rights, but because of political expediency they hesitate to come out and openly support fundamental rights of the Kashmiri people.

War, militancy and antagonism is not the way forward if you sincerely want to resolve the Kashmir dispute and problems of the people who have suffered for the past so many decades, she said. Security, rule of law and economic prosperity could only come if there is peace in the region; and civil society institutions are made stronger.

Baroness Emma Nicholson clarified her point of view on the issue of plebiscite and right of self – determination. This is a fundamental and natural right of every individual, but conditions laid down for such plebiscite in the UNCIP resolution were not met, as Pakistan refused to withdraw her forces from areas of the state under her control; and now situation has changed and those conditions could not be met. In any case, plebiscite in view of present ground realities might not bring about much desired peace and harmony.

Everyone should have right to determine his/her own future, but we all have different priorities. For some right of self - determination is priority, but for someone who is in a mountain camp in freezing weather his priority would be different – he would like to have food and shelter for his family - he would want medicine and education for his children. People of Jammu and Kashmir faced many problems and they were exacerbated by very destructive earthquake – I have seen the plight of these people and strongly feel for them, they desperately need our help to start some kind of normal life.

She said in her honest opinion, ‘the best way forward at present is to support the present peace process. We need more CBMs, more trade, more cultural and economic ties and this will lead to peace and harmony’. However she was disappointed that some Kashmiri parties have not taken part in the Round Table conference. In view of many commentators this attitude is not constructive, and make people wonder what exactly do these ‘leaders’ want?

Baroness Emma Nicholson said, ‘EU has a limited role to play in resolving the Kashmir dispute. We have no mandate to intervene - we are not United Nations. For us to mediate in this matter we need to be invited by both countries’. EU and other members of the international community are concerned about the situation in South Asia and about the plight of the Kashmiri people.
She said, ‘this report, which I have authored, is no longer my report, now it is an official document – the EU Foreign Affairs Committee has passed it. Before compiling this report she visited both sides of the LOC and ‘consulted very extensively with politicians at every level (in government and in opposition), including the APHC, civil society, academics, businessmen, human rights commissions, international diplomats, and the military; inhabitants of ‘migrants’ and refugee camps, Council, Commission and Embassy representative and many EU citizens of Kashmiri origin’.

Also she had ‘comprehensive briefings’ from the military officials on both sides, and considerable input from Commission delegations in New Delhi and Islamabad. Despite this hard work, detailed investigation and consultation, Emma Nicholson was accused by the Pakistani lobby of being a RAW agent; and some went as far as saying that the report was written by Indian secret agency and given to her. This attitude speaks volumes about the mind - set of Pakistani lobby, some officials and politicians.

I know she was hurt by these illogical and erratic remarks, but she is very determined person. She would fight to very last if she knows what she is doing is correct and will help people to live better life. It is this part of her character which appealed me and many other thinking and freedom loving Kashmiris. When she was attacked from right, left and centre – it almost became a fashion to criticise her, my colleagues and I decided to support her. I was cautioned by some well - wishers to stay out of this as strength of feelings in Pakistani and Kashmiri communities were very high, and anything in support of Emma Nicholson would surely have repercussions.

Like Emma Nicholson I am also very determined person, and when I know what I am doing is correct, I have the guts to go against the tide. I spoke to Emma Nicholson and assured her that the tide will turn in her favour. I told her that the majority of people of Jammu and Kashmir had not seen the report, and they were reacting under the influence of Pakistani propaganda. It was for the first time Pakistan found herself in the dock on the issue of Kashmir, and they had to divert attention elsewhere.

To a question that more than 700,000 thousand Kashmiris living in Britain are not in favour of her report, she said there hasn’t been any research or study to prove this point. As far as opposition to the report is concerned it is fading out – people are beginning to understand true value of the report; and in any case we don’t know who were opposing the report? People of Jammu and Kashmir are not recognised as an ethnic group in Britain; perhaps some work needs to be done for this purpose, and as a Member of House of Lords I am willing to work on this.

She said EU has bilateral relationship with different countries. Relationship with India is very close because of shared values - we are natural allies. Indian President addressed Plenary Session of the EU and got standing ovation, and this reflects the strength of our relationship. We would like to have similar kind of relationship with Pakistan, but it is not possible to establish such relationship in absence of true democracy – it is not easy to work with military and undemocratic governments.

Baroness Emma Nicholson said, this report is a set of suggestions and it has highlighted the plight of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. There are 27-countries in EU, and some of them had little or no interest in the affairs of Kashmir, now at least they are better informed. The report will go before the Plenary Session on 21st May, and I expect support of all those who believe in democratic values and fundamental rights for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

I don’t know what is the view of other people, but in my considered opinion the report will be adopted by the plenary session, as it is pro people and pro democracy report. Those British politicians who were opposing it because of constituency pressure need to understand that local elections are over; and by the time of next elections people will have better understanding of the report, hence little or no constituency pressure.

Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at:
Dr Shabir Choudhry
"lt may be in your interest to be our masters, but how can it be ours to be your slaves ? "

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