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British stand on Kashmir irks India

George Iype in New Delhi

On the eve of Queen Elizabeth's visit to the country, the government is upset over the Labour government's "unwanted" meddling in the vexed Jammu and Kashmir dispute involving India and Pakistan.

What has incensed the government is British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's statement in Islamabad on Wednesday that his country would be willing "to help in the achievement of a negotiated and peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute."

Cook, who is accompanying Queen Elizabeth on her visit to India and Pakistan, also told Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief that Britain "will be happy to help facilitate the resolution of the Kashmir issue".

"Cook's remarks on Kashmir were very undiplomatic," an external affairs ministry official told Rediff On The NeT. He stated that India does not want Britain or any other country to position itself as the "unwanted third party" to resolve the Indo-Pak bilateral conflict.

"We fear the Labour government's stand on Kashmir is biased and heavily tilted towards Pakistan," the official said. Moreover, there is a degree of "convergence of views" between the present governments in Britain and Pakistan on the issue.

Pointing out another instance of the British government's "pro-Pakistan" attitude, the official said a section of the Labour Party recently demanded a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir to settle the dispute.

Time and again India has told the Labour Party that the country is not interested in outside interference in this regard. "It is strange that Britain has now taken up the issue with Pakistan," the official added.

India's stand will be reiterated when Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral meets Cook in New Delhi on Monday, October 13, the spokesman said. Foreign Secretary K Raghunath and other MEA officials will also meet Cook and express India's concern about the British position.

The government is also unhappy with the queen's speech to Pakistan's national assembly, urging New Delhi and Islamabad to resolve their "historic disagreements".

The ministry, however, is making conscious efforts to isolate the queen's visit from the controversy over the Labour Party's stand on Kashmir. New Delhi fears the situation will deteriorate further if British politicians keep making such remarks on the issue during the royal visit.

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