Victoria Schofield, the keynote address, said that it was about time that this issue was resolved. She gave a historical background into how the Kashmir issue had started, putting particular focus to the rise of freedom fighters after the political process resulted in rigged elections. At the time, the West was supporting jihad in Afghanistan which was an inspiration and influence to the people of Kashmir to take up arms, she elaborated. It was 2001 that was a pivotal year, in her opinion, when all movements of Kashmir were branded as terrorists and no more support was given to freedom fighters, who had now become the infamous jihadis, also known as terrorists. Ms Schofield argued dialogue is the only way forward to resolve the the problems; the days of the freedom fighting had made their point, but was no longer viable in this day and age. The history of Kashmir has been long and tortuous, but Kashmir cannot be neglected – it affects everybody.
Naz Shah MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Chancellor, was resolute in her stance, urging the British government to do more labelling Kashmir a humanitarian/human rights crisis and insisting campaigners to move away from labelling Kashmir solely a self determination issue. However, she also said that we should focus our attention on other human rights abuses, where Pakistan is seeing persecution against minorities.
Toaha Qureshi MBE, Chairman Forum for International Relations Development (FIRD), likened the resolution of Kashmir to that of Sudan and East Timor, Scotland, Ireland and others. He stated that the conflict resolution was a must and in this era there is no excuse for there not to be an outcome. He took Naz Shah MP to task, rebutting the assertion that only minorities were being persecuted in Pakistan; instead he impressed upon the audience that Pakistan as a whole has been a victim of persecution by terrorists since its society has been attacked indiscriminately, whether Muslim or non Muslim, from mosques/shrines and churches/temples to markets and schools to military outposts. Therefore, Pakistan as a nation is as much a casualty and sufferer as anyone else. Mr Qureshi then invited the Pakistan High Commissioner to bring members of parliament and others to the High Commission to raise awareness on this issue.
HE Syed Ibne Abbas, High Commissioner for Pakistan to the UK, said that he was representing the government of Pakistan when expressing his unwavering solidarity with the people of Kashmir. He dismissed claims that Kashmir was a territorial dispute, saying that it was an issue of human rights violations. Agreeing with Mr Qureshi, he made clear that there is a difference between perception and reality when it comes to Pakistan – but unfortunately, some people are peddling agendas.
Lord Nazir Ahmed, President of APPG on Kashmir, said that support was needed internationally, starting at a grassroots level and making its way to strategic platforms. Promoting social media as a power platform in spreading information, Lord Ahmed urged the audience to use the like of Facebook and Twitter to share articles and links to raise awareness amongst people. What was made clear at this seminar was that support from strategic bodies, such as the Arab League, was lacking and needed to be developed.