June 2002 News

British Muslims divided over Kashmir

17 June 2002
The Hindu

LONDON: Britain''s nearly two-million strong Muslim community, comprising mainly Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, is evenly divided on the future of Kashmir with 34 per cent seeking independence for the disputed State and an exactly equal number supporting Pakistan''s claim to it, according to an opinion poll published today. Two per cent of the British Muslims back India, and seven per cent are undecided. The pro-India Muslims are presumed to be nearly all from India. There are some 2,40,000 Indians in the U.K., compared to more than 700,000 Pakistanis and 300,000 Bangladeshis. Muslims from West Asia, Africa and other parts of the world account for another 600,000. The Guardian-ICM poll aroused considerable interest in South Asian circles against the backdrop of a recent MORI poll which showed that an overwhelming majority more than 90 per cent of Indian Kashmiris were in favour of staying on with India. A senior leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front said the findings ''confirmed'' the strong pro-independence sentiment among Pakistani Kashmiris and claimed that given a ''free choice'' Indian Kashmiris would also exercise the independence option. He was not convinced by the MORI poll which barely showed any support for independence. ''The people on the both sides of Kashmir want to be given a chance to decide their own future and feel like prisoners in their own home,'' said Shabir Choudhury, head of the JKLF''s central diplomatic bureau accusing both India and Pakistan of ''suppressing'' civil liberties of the Kashmiri people. Based on interviews with 500 Muslims across Britain, indicated widespread ''concern'' over the Kashmir issue with 79 per cent of the respondents saying they were ''very concerned'' about its future and the tension in the region. The situation in Kashmir was found to be of greater concern than other Muslim ''hot spots'' around the world and heavily ''eclipsed'' interest in domestic issues. ''The danger of a nuclear war erupting in the dispute between India and Pakistan means that it is the major cause of anxiety for many British Muslims,'' the poll said, adding that when pollsters asked them who they ''most sympathised with in the dispute'', about a third said Pakistan and a third supported (independent) Kashmir.


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