Cash and Human Rights: Profits in British Politics

A debate on the human rights situation in Kashmir was organized on 23 September by the backbenchers in the House of Commons of the British Parliament. While the debate itself was full of the usual platitudes by British MPs who still believe in the power of Pax Britannia and its muscle as the colonial power, what is often lost in the din is how some of these MPs operate from behind the veil of charity and political activism around ostensibly noble causes, and get paid for it either in terms of votes or dodgy donations by Pakistani-origin businessmen or all-expenses paid trips funded by the Pakistan government. Far from being hauled up for financial gain in exchange for pushing the agenda of their benefactors and donors, such behaviour is condoned and pushed under the carpet.

The foul language used by some of the Pakistan-origin MPs in the Kashmir debate undoubtedly drew criticism from neutral colleagues. Trying to cover her tracks, one of the Labor MPs leading the debate, Debbie Abrahams, who  was deported from India in 2020, tried to lamely deflect the flak coming her way by saying that the debate was “not to be read as ‘pro-or anti’ any country as the lawmakers were only speaking in defense of human rights”. The same Debbie Abrahams, regularly riles against the government of Israel and in a recent tweet, called for the UK government to suspend arms sales to Israel. Who can take exception to such high principles that the Hon. Abrahams espoused? The only problem is that for the MP in question, human rights are not universal; they are only to be defended if there is any alleged violation in Jammu and Kashmir or Palestine, and that too if someone funds her for it. Ever since she became an MP in 2011, Ms. Abrahams has raised the issue of Kashmir on 21 different occasions and in various formats in the British Parliament. But how many times has she spoken about the genocide of Uighur Muslims in China or the horrible human rights situation in Balochistan where thousands have been killed and thousands more subjected to ‘enforced disappearances’ by the Pakistani authorities? The plight of Rohingya Muslims – once. Surprised? Don’t be, because her concern for human rights depends on whether someone pays for it or not.

After she was deported from India, Abrahams went on a fully funded trip to Pakistan-Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK). According to the Register of Members’ Interest filed by her after the trip on March 20, 2020, she declared that the Pakistan High Commission paid £15,590 for a four day trip for her and two staffers. Interestingly, on exactly the same dates 6 more MPs also visited PoJK were part of the same delegation (all paid for by the Pakistan High Commission) and they declared that the total cost was £2290. The math does not make sense, does it? Six MPs spending just under £2300 while three people (Abrahams and her staffers spending almost 6 times that amount? Did Ms. Abrahams push her accounts by almost £13,300? Incidentally, four of the six MPs who visited PoJK with Abrahams also spouted venom against New Delhi in the Kashmir debate.

That there is a clear quid pro quo between the ‘donations’ made by British Pakistani businessmen known to have close connections with the Pakistani government and the infamous Pakistani intelligence agency ISI is clear from the case of another MP, Angela Rayner. In 2020, she was making a bid for becoming Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. On  March 5, 2020, she accepted £10,000 from a British-Pakistani owned company Intro Development Limited in which a “significant influence or control” was exercised by Aneel Musarrat, a man who is known to have very close links not just with Imran Khan but also with the Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the ISI. Musarrat has funded Imran Khan and is believed to be one of the conduits through which ISI funnels money to British politicians. On March 7, 2020, two days after she received the donation, Rayner attended a reception to welcome the British High Commissioner to Islamabad. And then, just 3 days after this event, she gave an interview to a Pakistani journalist declaring that she is willing to raise the Kashmir issue in the British Parliament. Three months later she reiterates her position in another interview to a Pakistani journalist and claims that “reorganization of Indian-administered Kashmir is in contravention of Geneva conventions and UN resolutions’ . This was basically touting the standard Pakistan line. Since then, while Ms. Rayner is not known to have raised the Kashmir issue in Parliament, she has tried to pay her dues to her donors by taking a stridently anti-India stand on her twitter accounts, especially on the Covid-19 issue. Interestingly, in a tweet on August 5, 2020, which describes the amendment of Article 370 a ‘regressive revoking”, she implored “President” Modi to bring peace to the people of Kashmir. The honorable MPs ignorance is reflected by the fact that she does not know that Modi is Prime Minister and not President. And yet, to please her Pakistani benefactors she decided to do some good old fashioned virtue signaling by raising the Kashmir issue.

Apart from funding openly hostile and anti-India Pakistani origin MPs like Yasmin Qureshi who got a total of £5500 in 2017 and 2019 elections from Musarrat’s front company Intro Developments, it has also funded Andy Burnham, a MP who was caught in a 2015 cash-for-access sting operation while accepting donation  from fake Pakistani donors. In 2017, Burnham received £20,000 from Aneel Musarrat to support his campaign for becoming Mayor of Greater Manchester. Within days of receiving the rather generous donation, Burnham started to plug the Pakistani line on Kashmir. His election manifesto ‘deplored all human rights violations’ in Kashmir and promised to urge the British government “to consider Kashmiri as a nationality in the census”, a backdoor ploy to project Kashmir as an independent entity. Later, in September 2019 after the constitutional reforms in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Burnham seconded a motion passed by the Greater Manchester Council asking the UK government to press India on the “human rights abuses” and “finding a bilateral resolution taking into account the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir in accordance with the UN Charter and resolutions”.

Musarrat’s role as a financial conduit to win over British MPs and make them peddle Pakistan’s lies is only one side of the picture. He has also been responsible for raising hundreds of thousands of Pounds for Imran Khan’s ‘charitable causes’. That many of the accounts in which these donations were made were also Hafiz Saeed party’s accounts and are alleged to have been used not only for funding his party activities in Pakistan (a clear violation of Pakistani law under which the party can be disqualified and on which a case has been hanging fire for years now in Pakistan’s byzantine judicial system) is quite another matter. Equally serious is the charge that Imran Khan’s lavish lifestyle which is not in sync with his known sources of income is also funded by people like Musarrat.

But in recent months, it seems there has been a falling out between the ‘donor’ Musarrat and the recipient Imran Khan because some of the lucrative building contracts Musarrat was angling for have failed to come his way. But that has not dissuaded Musarrat from continuing to use his companies to funnel money for Pakistan’s causes through British politicians. Perhaps given his close links with the Pakistani military establishment – according to some reports he has a business relationship with relatives of the current Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa –  Musarrat’s services as the bagman of the Pakistani ‘deep state’ will continue even if he has a fall-out with Imran Khan. But the bigger question is why in the face of overwhelming evidence of how Pakistan-origin businessmen are being used to buy influence in the UK is being tolerated by the British authorities? Why is it that in a country where even a minor financial infraction has led to resignations of MPs, such open purchase of MPs by Pakistan is being allowed so blatantly?