The violent conflict in Kashmir does not show any sign of ending anytime soon. A lot is being discussed about the role of Pakistan in supporting this insurgency gaining strength and failure of Indian political class in devising a political strategy to contain it. However, the role of one critical actor which is usually overlooked in the analysis of the Kashmir conflict is its diaspora population, mostly based in UK and the rest of the West.
People originating from conflict affected regions living in different countries actively support violent conflicts in their homelands. They usually finance ethnic wars and promote extremist ideology and uncompromising political positions. In some cases, they even directly take up arms to fight for their ethnic groups. However, the Kashmir diaspora and its impact on the conflict in the Valley is a complicated one as the conflict is not an internal ethnic conflict. Kashmir is a divided land and thus, the diaspora also has divided territorial loyalities.
Most of the Kashmir diaspora is based in England, and is constituted by people who migrated from Pakistani part of Kashmir. A large part of the diaspora, particularly those who left Pakistan administered Kashmir in 1960s, have not migrated due to war or persecution, but were displaced by Mangla Dam in the Mirpur area.
After the signing of the Indus Water Treaty with India in 1960, Pakistan built a huge hydropower dam at Mangla on the Jhelum river of the Indus system. The Mangla Dam submerged vast areas and displaced 100,000 people. Almost five per cent of the displaced population, up to 5,000 Mirpuri Kashmiris migrated to the UK. Pakistani government's compensation helped them escape from the country at a time when the British needed labour force, particularly for its textile industry. Most of these migrating Mirpuris settled in Bradford, England.
The researchers working on South Asian diaspora claim that nearly two-thirds of all Pakistanis living in the UK are originally from Mirpur. This large migration has outnumbered the 500 families from the Valley living in the UK. The diaspora from the Valley opposes the attempts by the Mirpuris to appropriate Kashmiri identity. They even call Mirpuris "nouveaux Kashmiris". Not only do they differ over the Kashmiri identity, they also disagree over their vision for Kashmir's future.
The British Kashmiris are one of the most politically active diaspora among the South Asian communities. Their activism has been successful in keeping the Kashmir issue alive in the minds of European policymakers. The UK has been the epicentre of fund raising and lobbying of the diaspora to support Kashmir's "freedom" movement since 1990s. The diaspora does not leave any opportunity to draw attention to the alleged human rights violations by the Indian security forces in the Indian administered Kashmir.
However, the division among the ranks of the Kashmir diaspora had limited their influence and impact on the ongoing conflict in the Indian administered area. While Mirpuris wanted Kashmir to be part of Pakistan, the diaspora from the Valley fought for an independent Kashmir. Despite being fewer in number, the Valley diaspora was able to maintain the Kashmiri independence as the main agenda of activism. At least till recently.
The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in the UK, which opposes Kashmir becoming part of Pakistan and fights for its independence, was very influential in the UK in 1990s. It drew support from both Indian administered and Pakistan administered Kashmir. JKLF as a political unit is no longer powerful due to a leadership crisis and factionalism. With the decline of JKLF, some other Kashmir diaspora organisations have emerged in recent years, such as the Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party and United Kashmir People's National Party.
However, these independence-supporting groups are divided along clan and tribal lines and have been mostly grounded in Pakistan administered Kashmir. With the decline of violence in Indian administered Kashmir under the Manmohan Singh government, the diaspora activism limited itself to occasional protests outside Indian embassies in Europe and engaged in debates and discussions about Kashmiri identity and history.
Manmohan Singh's tenure as prime minister brought a semblance of normalcy to the Indian administered Kashmir and improved the relationship between India and Pakistan despite several spoilers trying to derail the process. Since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, the relationship with Pakistan has not only deteriorated considerably, the situation in the Indian part of Kashmir has also become extremely volatile.
Months of lockdown and curfew and shutting down mobile and internet services have not improved the situation in the Valley, rather it has brought the diaspora together as they contact each other to find information about their family members. The popular unrest does not show any sign of abating. Kashmir has almost gone out of India's control and Modi's hard-headed policy is primarily responsible for it.
While there is increasing unrest and growing militancy in Indian administered Kashmir, there is a simultaneous churning going on to move the Valley diaspora from it aspiration of achieving independence to support the struggle to be part of Islamic Pakistan.
The declining influence of independence supporting diaspora groups from the Valley, the Mirpuris have started to dominate ideologically the Kashmir diaspora activism in the UK. Various officials and politicians from Mirpur are visiting UK to mobilise the Kashmiri diaspora to fight as a single unit. Pakistan's active support to unite Kashmiri diaspora groups are not only limited to the UK, it also extends to the US.
The hyper-nationalism and Hindu-majoritarian politics unleashed in Modi's India has forced the divided Kashmiri diaspora groups to close their ranks and fight against India with the support of Pakistan.
The present Indian regime does not offer any hope for any negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue. In November 2015, several Kashmiri diaspora groups came together to protest against Narendra Modi's official visit to the UK. In June 2017, when Modi met Donald Trump in Washington DC, a similar protest strategy was adopted by various Kashmiri diaspora groups. Modi's Hindutva politics is increasingly bringing the Kashmiri diaspora groups together. In November 2017, the president of "Azad Kashmir" addressed diaspora groups in London, where he asked them to stay united to fight for the Kashmir cause highlighting greater threats to Kashmiri Muslims from the RSS cadres in Jammu.
The Kashmir lobby in Europe, which has become very active in recent years, and adopts a strong anti-India and pro-Pakistan stance, is supported and sustained by this increasingly united diaspora. Regularly, these associations are joining hands to protest against India in various capitals of Europe and in front of the UN office in Geneva. The Kashmiri diaspora groups are not only coordinating among themselves, they are also organising joint protests with Sikh groups demanding Khalistan. This development is not limited to Europe-based diaspora groups, even in Canada the Kashmiri and Sikh diaspora groups are joining hands.
While Manmohan Singh pursued the Indo-Pak peace process, several Kashmir diaspora organisations in the US and Canada openly supported his initiatives, but that division within Kashmiri diaspora has almost disappeared now. Under the Modi regime, the near death of the peace process, growing assertion of Hindutva politics, increasing violence in Kashmir and over-active Hindu diaspora have started to bring all the Kashmiri diaspora groups together to support the struggle in Kashmir. There is little division among the ranks now with the diaspora mobilising into one unit to support the cause to make Kashmir a part of Pakistan.