"A final resolution to the Kashmir issue is hugely important to world peace. Until the situation is resolved, the potential still exists for India and Pakistan to go to war," said Liberal Democrat MP David Ward, who had secured the debate on the 'Political and Humanitarian Situation in Kashmir' as part of the regular Backbench Business Committee application process in the House of Commons.

The Bradford MP opened the debate in Committee Room 10 with a reference to the "devastating floods which have caused despair to thousands", adding: "We simply cannot escape the British legacy; we have an obligation to take an interest in Kashmir...offering help is far from interfering".

Britain's former minister in charge of business engagement with India, Gregory Barker MP, countered on behalf
of the UK government's view.

"There is a democratic process in place and around 61 per cent of the population participated in state elections in the region, which sits as part of the world's largest democracy," he said.

"Any British insertion will be very unhelpful...India has been the subject of vile terrorist attacks and we stand shoulder to shoulder [with India] on the issue of terrorism," he added.

His views were echoed by Labour MP Barry Gardiner, who likened the discussion to the ongoing debate around Scotland's independence from the United Kingdom.

"This is almost akin to the Lok Sabha debating the merits and de-merits of Scottish independence," he said.

Around 13 cross-party MPs, including Labour's shadow finance secretary Shabana Mahmood and Indian-origin Labour MP Virendra Sharma, addressed both sides of the debate calling Kashmir dispute a "threat" to regional and global peace and to give the people "right to self-determination".

Ward, who represents a largely Kashmiri-origin population in his constituency of Bradford, had secured the debate based on a petition by the 'Jammu & Kashmir Self-Determination Movement' which gained thousands of signatures.

It had raised concerns among some groups regarding the timing coinciding with the September 11 US attacks anniversary as well as the focus of the debate.

"A number of British Indian organisations have contacted us expressing concerns on this Kashmir debate development in the House of Commons at this time because they fear that it could be used as an India/Indian bashing opportunity," said the British Hindu Voice in an appeal to MPs.

The British Parliament's Backbench Business Committee meets weekly to consider requests for debates from any backbench MPs on any subject, including those raised in e-petitions or national campaigns.

These debates are held in a chamber within the House of Commons complex and aimed at lobbying UK government on specific issues.

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