In late October, during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, anti-India protests were held across London. In mid-August, on India’s Independence Day, I was inside the Indian embassy in Brussels as thousands of pro-Pakistan demonstrators loudly chanted anti-India slogans outside.
On the same day, in London, pro-Pakistan protestors trashed the Indian High Commission, pelting stones and eggs and breaking windows. In early September, the High Commission was vandalized again by protestors carrying flags of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
On a much more personal note, a close Indian friend based in London recently described how he perceived as racist his arrest by a policeman of Pakistani origin for alleged drunk driving, despite being well under the alcohol limit. Whether the officer genuinely acted on bias, or this was merely my friend’s perception, one thing is clear: tensions on Kashmir are spilling over between Indian and Pakistani origin communities in the UK.
In the aftermath of the Indian government’s abrogation of Article 370, changing the constitutional status of Kashmir, Pakistan has created "Kashmir cells" at its embassies around the world in order to incite local populations against India. It is a campaign dedicated to bringing its sinister propaganda to an international audience – and to legitimizing its provocateurs to bring the Kashmir conflict on to Europe's streets.
This week, the 2019 Kashmir-EU Week takes place on the premises of the European Parliament. The chief guest is the so-called "Prime Minister" of the so-called "Azad" Kashmir - that part of Kashmir wholly under Pakistani occupation, but which Pakistan ironically refers to as "Free." The area has an appalling human rights record. According to Christine Fair, the Georgetown University professor who has spent decades studying the region, "Azad" Kashmir is Pakistan’s core launchpad for terrorists into India.
This is at least the third time that Raja Farooq Haider Khan is being feted in the EU capital, having also been hosted previously by both the European External Action Service - the official foreign policy arm of the EU - as well as the European Parliament.
When I first began working in Brussels in October 2015, I attended some of these pro- Azad Kashmir "events" to get a flavor and sense of the conversation around Kashmir in Europe.
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The first that I attended was the so-called Kashmir Black Day - an annual event held by the Kashmir Council-EU every October to mark the Accession Day to India of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. Along the way, I attended several such events in formal political institutions in Europe - all of which, if one doesn’t want to use the term propagandist in nature, can be at least described as deliberately misleading, and lacking in nuance.
Living in European liberal democracies where freedom of speech and assembly are hallowed, I remained unfazed, although still surprised by the one-sidedness of it all. But what happens when peaceful political protest turns violent?
I now feel it's necessary to ask: Are these really still to be regarded as the peaceful protests of a well-meaning community on behalf of the human rights of Indian Kashmiris? At what point do they descend into racist and Hinduphobic acts, seeking to incite ethnic and religious hatred? Why is the Pakistani state, through its Kashmir cells directed by local embassies, so keen to export hatred and violence to Europe?
What does it mean for the future of diaspora Indians in Europe if their most important national and sacred holidays are serially hijacked by other communities by ugly protests, vandalism and intimidation?
How much more fragile could relations between the Indian and Pakistani diaspora in Europe become, when Pakistan is deliberately framing the Kashmir conflict as a religious war? When Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan predicts a "blood bath" in Kashmir, declares that if he was living there, "I would pick up a gun," and praises those standing by Kashmiris for doing "jihad"?
While pro-Pakistan goons are busy shrieking their lungs out on the streets of London and Brussels about human rights in India, the reality is that nobody except a Sunni Muslim is safe in Pakistan.
A country with systematic discrimination and rampant human rights abuses against ethnic populations such as Balochis and Pashtuns, religious minorities such as Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, Muslim minorities such as Shias, Hazaras, Ismailis and Ahmadiyas, really can't take the moral high ground. But, of course, it’s always easier to make a lot of noise about other people than look honestly at the problems at home.
India changed Kashmir's status to channel far more investment and development into the state, and to better integrate a region long plagued by extremism and violent unrest into the rest of the country - a move that is well-intentioned to its core. Although the curfew in Kashmir has been lifted, as have some restrictions on communications, the Internet lockdown is ongoing. That is due to the very real risk of Pakistan weaponizing the Internet to launch further terrorist attacks - as it has often done in the past.
On Kashmir, Pakistan's leaders are pretending to put on a mask of statesmanship abroad. But the truth is Pakistan has long cultivated, trained and funded Islamist proxy terrorists who have radically undermined living conditions in Kashmir.
Pakistan systematically amplifies the grotesque views of these terror perpetrators, dedicated to destabilizing India and fomenting unrest, giving them space to host large-scale rallies - such as a Lahore event addressed by the Mumbai terror attack perpetrators, and attended by thousands – and even to run as candidates in national elections.
As Christine Fair states, "New Delhi and Srinagar [the provincial capital of Kashmir] can only attempt to solve their very real problems if Pakistan stops its habit of terrorism."
India and the EU have a Strategic Partnership and cooperate on a whole spectrum of issues. But despite deadly Pakistani state-sponsored terrorist attacks on India, and despite the self-declared centrality of democracy to EU foreign policymaking, as reiterated in its 2019 Council Conclusions on Democracy, Europe sometimes appears to view democratic India and a Pakistan explicitly or implicitly ruled by the military on an equal footing.
As one of the key observers in Pakistan's 2018 elections, the EU is well aware of the dubious democratic process that brought Imran Khan to power.
Any close observer of the region knows that Kashmir is merely a symptom of the Indo-Pakistani enmity. The real problem is the nature of the Pakistani state. As Dr Siegfried Wolf, a leading Brussels-based expert on the region has stressed, "If the international community continues to ignore Pakistan’s state-sponsorship of terrorism, the future of South Asia looks extraordinarily grim."
The EU has a critical role in preventing Pakistan's narrative - exaggerating Kashmir's' sense of grievance and alienation, attempting to poison ordinary Kashmiris against India – from playing out in Europe, and recruiting European Muslims into a radicalizing campaign. A false sense of victimhood is the first pull towards potential radicalization.
India, the prime victim of Pakistan-backed terrorism, should garner far greater empathy, if not sympathy, in Europe's corridors of power.
Instead, the EU is ignoring the necessity of India’s choice of life over liberty, of the context of its temporary decision to freeze full human rights in Kashmir at a precarious time of rampant unrest, violence, extremism, radicalization, terrorism and killings.
Instead, Europe is damaging its normative values and credentials when it repeatedly hosts and legitimizes people like "Azad" Kashmir's Raja Farooq Haider Khan. And it is abandoning the very large, hardworking and successful diaspora Indian community to face alone Pakistan's intimidation and offensive propaganda.
The security of India's large diaspora community, whether in Europe, the U.S. or elsewhere, must be ensured - lest it push a well-mannered, well-integrated and tolerant community to the brink.
Shairee Malhotra is an international relations expert who has worked for the European External Action Service - the foreign policy arm of the EU, and other think tanks in India and Europe. She has written for The Diplomat, Fair Observer and Open Democracy among others and holds a masters in international relations from Queen Mary College, University of London. Twitter: @MalhotraShairee