Miliband has damaged ties with India: Conservative Party

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Britain’s main opposition party Monday criticised Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s comments about Kashmir on his recent visit to India, saying they may have damaged close and important ties between India and Britain.

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Miliband’s comments urging a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the light of the Mumbai terror attacks were described by New Delhi as “unsolicited” advice that reflected his “evolving” personal view rather than British foreign policy.

The Conservative Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “Good relations with India are very important to Britain, and must be handled with care and consistency.”

“If these statements (by Indian officials) are representative of how David Miliband’s visit was received, then those relations will have been damaged.”

A spokeswoman for Miliband said: “The Foreign Secretary was very open and honest about his views, which are those of the British government. He delivered the same message in New Delhi as he did in Islamabad.”

A British foreign ministry spokesman said: “The Foreign Secretary had a very good visit and what he took away to Pakistan was a very clear sense of anger felt about the Mumbai attacks and the need for decisive action by Pakistan, supported by the international community, to root out the terrorism that struck India with such devastating effect.”

The British media have quoted Indian government sources as accusing Miliband of being “aggressive in tone and manner” in a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

He is reported to have been dismissed as a “young man” by senior officials.

In an article published in The Guardian newspaper Jan 15 and repeated the same day in a speech delivered at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, Miliband said the US-led War on Terror was “misleading and “mistaken.”

“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 said.

Miliband’s comments have also been slammed by sections of the British press.

The Times newspaper’s foreign editor said Miliband showed “bad judgment and poor taste when he chose the Taj hotel in Mumbai to take a last swipe at George Bush in the dying days of his presidency.”

“The Taj hotel in Mumbai is a place where visiting foreign leaders should pay respect to the dead and praise the courage of those who defied the terrorists,” he added.

The pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph reported Monday that Miliband’s reference to Kashmir had been “welcomed” by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group blamed for the November Mumbai attacks.

“The (Lashkar) statement will cause further discomfort for Mr Miliband after India reacted angrily to his ‘interference’ in the issue and senior politicians branded his trip a ‘disaster’,” the paper said.