By James Moules
BRITISH arms sales to India were branded “a clear message of political support” for the Modi government as its shutdown in Kashmir approaches a year.
Following his consolidation of power in the 2019 general election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the special status of India’s northern region of Jammu and Kashmir – the nation’s only Muslim majority province.
Subsequently, the government introduced a mass lockdown last August. A communications blackout was imposed upon the region, travel restrictions have been implemented and thousands of arrests have been carried out.
The move was widely condemned in the international community, with many accusing the Indian authorities of encroaching on Kashmiris’ human rights.
In a statement last year, Secretary General of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo said: “The actions of the Indian government have thrown ordinary people’s lives into turmoil, subjecting them to unnecessary pain and distress on top of the years of human rights violations they have already endured.
“The people of Jammu and Kashmir should not be treated as pawns in a political crisis, and the international community must come together to call for their human rights to be respected.”
However, the Hindu-nationalist Modi government claims the Kashmir shutdown is intended as an anti-terrorism move.
In the UK, campaigners have criticised the government’s licensing of arms sales to India, calling it a tacit endorsement of the Modi government.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told Redaction Politics: “Modi has driven India’s domestic policies in a more reactionary and authoritarian direction while taking a more aggressive policy on the world stage.
“Arms sales do not just offer military support, they also send a very clear message of political support. By continuing to arm and support Modi and his forces the UK government is making itself complicit in the abuses it is carrying out.”
Since 2014, £1.1 billion in arms sales licenses to India have been approved by the UK government.
This includes all manner of military equipment, from aircraft components to small arms ammunition.
CAAT said: “The lifespan of these weapons will be longer than the political context that they are sold into. The Indian authorities are moving in a more aggressive and reactionary direction. The weapons being sold today could be used in abuses for years to come.”
Since Modi came to power in 2014, Indian military spending has hiked substantially.
“As military spending has increased this has also included arms sales from the UK. India is listed among the ‘core markets’ for UK arms exports, which means that civil servants will be working closely with arms companies to sell as many arms as possible.
“UK arms sales to India cover almost every weapon category. A lot of the deals link to sale of hawk jets, which will have long-term contacts and maintenance.”
However, a spokesperson for the UK government defended the government’s export licensing criteria.
They said: “The UK assesses all export licence applications on a case-by-case basis in line with our strict licensing criteria.
“We will not issue export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria, including where we assess there is a clear risk that equipment might be used for internal repression.”
The crisis in Kashmir has been a decades long dispute. India and Pakistan both claim the Himalayan region as their sovereign territory.
Both nations control part of the territory, while China administers a small segment bordering its Xizang (Tibet) Autonomous Region.
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