“Miliband Was Not Off-message, He Toed The U.K. Line On Kashmir”

22 January 2009
The Hindu

London: The British Foreign Office on Thursday said Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s remarks on Kashmir, which infuriated the Indian government, were “fully consistent” with Britain’s stated view that any conflict likely to be exploited by terrorists to “kill and maim” innocent people must be resolved quickly. Sources told The Hindu that Mr. Miliband had not been “off-message,” nor did he deviate from the government line while calling upon India to resolve the Kashmir dispute urgently in order to blunt the edge of Pakistan-based terrorists. This contradicts the perception in New Delhi that Mr. Miliband made the remarks off his own bat. When the External Affairs Ministry first protested, its spokesman Vishnu Prakash said Mr. Miliband’s views were “clearly his own and are evolving.” “Mr. Miliband is entitled to his views, which are clearly his own and are evolving. We do not need unsolicited advice on the internal issues of India like Jammu and Kashmir,” Mr. Prakash said. But the British Foreign Office sources are keen to emphasise that Mr. Miliband was simply articulating the British government’s official line. “No, the Foreign Secretary was not off-message at all. It has always been our view that where there is conflict that could play into the hands of terrorists it is important to resolve it in order to deny them a pretext to perpetrate any atrocity. It is in this context that he emphasised the importance of resolving the Kashmir issue,” one official said. The sources also expressed surprise at New Delhi’s strong reaction, claiming that India was aware of the British position as it had come up “frequently” in discussions with the Indian government. “Mr. Miliband’s remarks have been misinterpreted and blown out of all proportions,” they said. They argued that his comments must be seen in the context of the Laskhar-e-Taiba’s “narrative” that its violent activities were part of its “struggle” to “liberate” Kashmir. “What he meant was that once you resolve Kashmir, the LeT would be deprived of that narrative. But so long as the Kashmir issue remains it would continue to provide ammunition to terrorists,” one source familiar with India-Pakistan relations said. Mr. Miliband sparked a diplomatic row when, writing in The Guardian on the eve of his recent visit to India, he called for New Delhi to settle the Kashmir issue as a way of dealing with cross-border terrorism. “Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders,” he wrote. Natasha Khan, a Foreign Office spokesperson, said normalisation of India-Pakistan relations was “vital to regional security” and the British government continued to urge both countries to seek a “lasting resolution of the issue of Kashmir which takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.” However, it was not for the U.K. government to prescribe a solution and it was for the parties directly involved to decide how best to resolve it, she added. Meanwhile, there was concern that the row sparked by Mr. Miliband’s remarks and the way he conducted himself during his visit might have “damaged” India-U.K. relations. William Hague, shadow foreign secretary, said: “Good relations with India are very important to Britain and must be handled with care and consistency. If David Miliband’s comments caused a diplomatic storm in Delhi, then those relations will have been damaged by his visit.” The Foreign Office said India and the U.K. enjoyed a “very strong strategic partnership” which covered a very broad agenda. “We are confident that the common interests we share and our strong relationship will continue,” it said.