In a dismal global atmosphere when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has been trying his best to awaken the sleeping conscience of the United Nations and the world to address to the grave situation in the disputed A&JK writhing in a state of over a month long lockdown under military siege, it is heartening to see British Labour Party speak up to reiterate its commitment to the peaceful solution of the dispute in accordance with the UN resolutions sanctioning right of self-determination and plebiscite to the shackled 80-million Kashmiris.
It must be a moment of great satisfaction for the Pakistani/Kashmiri Diaspora when Labour Party much like it did in October 1995 passed a unanimous motion on Kashmir at the Brighton Conference on September 25 stating that Kashmir should be given the right of self-determination as per UN resolutions. It categorically urged Labour party to ‘stand with Kashmiris fighting against occupation’.
The motion was submitted by British Pakistani Uzma Rasool from Leyton. In her speech, Rasool claimed that Kashmir has seen ’72 years of human rights violation’, gang rapes and mass rapes, and pellet gun injuries. It called upon the Labour Party to urgently request India to allow access to humanitarian agencies to help the beleaguered. “This is a major crisis. We cannot allow a century of oppression to take place.”
Earlier, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had already made his pro-Kashmiri stand clear on the issue in August 11 tweet. Corbyn had claimed that human rights abuses taking place in Kashmir cannot be condoned.
It was a follow up by Labour members and leaders that had participated in the August 15 ‘protests’ in London against abrogation of article 370 ending J & K’s special status under the Indian constitution. The resolution seeks Jeremy Corbyn to meet the High Commissioners of both India and Pakistan to ensure there is “mediation” and restoration of peace and normalcy to prevent a potential nuclear conflict. This is a stand contrary to Indian position maintaining that any dialogue with Pakistan will be bilateral and there will be no third-party intervention. It may be mentioned here even President Trump offered mediation if the two parties agreed.
Obviously Indian reaction has been severe. MEA spokesperson has taken a serious exception to it and regretted the ‘uninformed and unfounded’ positions taken at this conference. It described it as an attempt at pandering to vote-bank interests. There is no question of engaging with the Labour Party or its representatives on this issue.” The Indian High Commission in London further cancelled the annual reception with Labour party delegates as soon as the party began its debate.
As I look down the time tunnel I am reminded of October 1995 to the memorable landmark event at the Party Conference in Brighton. It was at the beautiful beach city that I came across some of the most outstanding political leaders of the Labour Party trying to outshine each other in performance to replace a much power-fatigued and exhausted Tory government having done nearly two decades in uninterrupted power under that Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher followed by John Major. While fissures in Tory party now helped Labour swing back into action as now under Jeremy Corbyn, at that time it was Robin Cook, Gerald Kaufman, Clair Short, Gordon Brown and John Prescott including young and dynamic Gorge Galloway who led the way forward to electoral victory in 1997.
It was here at Brighton conference that I was for the first time introduced to then Shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. I found him to be extremely humane, friendly and affectionate and had no inhibitions about himself. My admiration for him grew the more I heard him speak. I used to make it a point to be present at functions where he spoke. His words of wisdom still reverberate in my ears when he spoke on war on Iraq and explained why he had chosen that dark hour to quit Blair government. Indeed, no man of conscience as he could have truck with events that had no legitimate sanction or moral backing.
It was of personal grief when Robin died at 59. Robin’s commitment to both Kashmir and Palestine causes reminded me of his singularity to the cause of Kashmir. It was here in Brighton—in October 1995—he had moved a resolution at the National Executive Committee—to declare that Kashmir issue was a legacy of the partition; it was a moral obligation of the Labour Party to fulfill its commitment to the unfinished agenda; to ensure it is resolved on the principle of the right of self-determination granted to the people of Kashmir by the United Nations; to call upon all parties concerned to ensure that human rights are not violated and terrorism is shunned.
This historic resolution of the Labour NEC moved by Robin Cook was described as Pakistan’s diplomatic triumph by the Indian media. It was astoundingly significant since never before or hence, had the Labour Party reiterated that Kashmir issue be resolved according to the right of self-determination.
Not only that when in power and on a sensitive visit to India accompanying the Queen (1997), Foreign Secretary Robin Cook singed the Indian beards when he offered a third party role as mediator to India and Pakistan to resolve the core issue. His reassertion of his stand caused a major media storm. British and Indian media blamed him of stirring up in a hornet’s nest and he was accused of causing an embarrassment to the Queen. Despite pressure, Robin did not do beat a retreat and kept his words.
Robin Cook was committed to lead Britain in the matters of foreign affairs through an ethical foreign policy. And the moment he realised that he would not be able to deliver, he chose the honourable way of quitting the job. When he found that it was bearing too heavily on his conscience to even continue as Labour Leader of the House of Commons, he tendered his resignation. He was opposed to Iraq war.
As a Foreign Secretary he did his best to stop Britain getting involved in it. His speeches against the war were Edmund Burke-like, very vocal, effective and sincerely passionate. Anti-war campaigners fondly recall his last ditch efforts to avert the war. His sincerity had endeared him to all those who believe in higher human values especially among the Muslims since they are the ones who are facing the direct and indirect brunt of 9-11 and subsequent global disorder.
I had found Robin to be extremely humble, friendly and affectionate. Last time when I met him was at the Westminster
just a few days before his death. I was with the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at a lunch hosted by British MPs of Pakistani origin. Robin saw me, walked into the restaurant, held me by hand and exchanged pleasantries. Later he wrote down on a piece of paper his London home address for a meeting that never took place. Ms Bhutto and Robin had known each other well. Robin as a matter of fact was member of Bhutto release committee when she was incarcerated in Pakistan under dictator General Ziaul Haq. While Britain lost in his death a man who would have been one of its best prime ministers, the world was denied by his untimely demise a man who would have left no stone unturned to make it ethical and morally strong, war against poverty under him would have definitely taken off and his dream of getting rid of the world of the curse, would surely have come true.
Robin was a very sharply witted man, analytical and highly intellectual too. Not only he had proved himself to be one of the greatest parliamentarians of all times, his contribution as a newspaper columnist would always be remembered.
Brighton memories bring me yet to another personal loss. Foreign Minister Derek Fatchett. He died young after he suffered a heart attack just two years in office. I had known him since he was Shadow Minister and used to meet me quite often. His constituency in Leeds had huge Pakistani presence. When I returned from Pakistan after months of incarceration, I visited the 1997 Labour Party Conference to meet all friends who were later in power. Every one who I had known greeted my return with affection and warmth. Robin, Clare Short, Gerald Kaufman, Derek Fatchett and host of others were concerned about me and I am grateful that it each one had contributed his or her bit in my return to Britain.
Last but not the least, it was in Brighton in 1994 that I had made a friend who has stood by me and Pakistan through thick and thin. I was with Chouhdry Mohammad Sarwar (MP), Raja Hanif and others having dinner in a Pakistani restaurant. Smoking until then was not prohibited in restaurants. Dinner over, i took out my cigar as usual and lighted it. Lo and behold, walks upto our table a young, smiling man. It was mutual fascination at first sight. He leaned over and said in my ear: “I’m George Galloway, I don’t know who you are—but we have a common bond—I also smoke cigar—and can I borrow one since one can’t get them easy in Brighton”. A cigar laid the foundation of a friendship that has survived many a storm since.
Before I conclude how can I forget my meeting with yet another great Labour Party stalwart. He was one of the longest serving members of the House of Commons—Sir Gerald Kaufman. Not only he was the man who made Kashmir issue a core matter of concern for the Labour Party, helped Robin draft the 1995 NEC resolution on Kashmir, travelled to Brussels in heavy snow to lobby for the Kashmiri cause—Sir Gerald had been a source of immense strength for me and my family. I could always knock at his door whenever a call becomes unavoidable. Friends like him are not found every day—they come in ages.
I missed due to health reasons this year’s Labour Party Conference but was glad to see Jeremy take full control of the situation to be knocking at the doors of power. Participation in each of the conferences from 1994 onward made me new friends and provided me newer opportunities to be part of the British cosmopolitan culture where every one—irrespective of caste, creed or colour is acceptable for assimilation. It offers bountiful opportunities; one has to grab them to contribute towards the greatest good of the largest number in a social welfare society.
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