Pakistan and Kashmir

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:47 pm on 25th July 1991.

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Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lunesdale 2:47 pm, 25th July 1991

I endorse my hon. Friend's comments about the great efforts that the Pakistan Government have made in relation to the refugees. It is a subject to which my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North might have referred. We are happy to congratulate the Pakistan Government on that.

We share the pleasure of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North in noting that, once again, Britain and Pakistan are fellow members of the Commonwealth.

We in this country respected the courageous stand taken by the Pakistan Government during the Gulf crisis in support of the multinational coalition, despite the considerable domestic difficulties which the Pakistan Government confronted in doing so. We were associated with our European partners in a message of support from the Twelve which was delivered to the Pakistan Prime Minister in early February. Pakistan's commitment to international order was visible and effective. It is also ongoing: even now, nine Pakistani officers form part of the United Nations' mission to man Kuwait's frontiers.

We also appreciate that Pakistan, like many other countries, suffered considerable economic disadvantage from Saddam Hussein's aggression. I understand that Pakistan has not yet made use of the International Monetary Fund's enhanced structural adjustment facility, but that Pakistan is continuing its discussions with IMF officials about this and other forms of IMF and World bank assistance.

We welcome the Prime Minister of Pakistan's impressive range of economic reforms, covering foreign investment, exports, tariff and foreign exchange controls, taxation and privatisation. We hope that they will make a strong contribution to the country's economic growth and benefit our bilateral trade and economic relations.

I note my hon. Friend's remarks about the Shariat law which has recently been enacted. Many people, both in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, await with interest the reports of the various commissions set up by the Shariat legislation to see what impact they will have on Pakistani society. We hope that the protection of minority interests will be assured and welcome the remarks made by senior figures in Pakistan which show that they recognise the need for this.

I thoroughly endorse my hon. Friend's remarks about the dangers of the drugs trade and the need to control, in particular, the dreadful problem of heroin addiction. That menace threatens both the United Kingdom and Pakistan and we are working closely with the Pakistan Government to combat drug-related problems. While I was in Pakistan in February, I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss these problems at first hand with those involved in trying to control them.

I was delighted to receive the Minister for Narcotics Control, the Honourable Rana Chandar Singh, when he visited London in May. During that useful visit, we were able to exchange views on a wide range of drug enforcement measures. I understand that the Minister is working actively on anti-drugs legislation on the seizure of assets. I hope that that will be enacted soon and will have a particular impact on dealing with drugs-related offences.

I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion about police training. We agree that that is a worthwhile way in which we can help Pakistan. Every year, we provide funds to train seven Pakistani police officers in the United Kingdom, many of whom attend the overseas course at the police staff college. Further consideration is being given to what more we can do to help their police forces, and we are in touch with the Pakistan authorities about this.

I note carefully what my hon. Friend said about Kashmir. We share his concern, that of the House and many other people in this country about the situation in Kashmir, not least the tension that it has caused between India and Pakistan, both good friends of Britain, and concerns that have been expressed about human rights.

I assure the House that, far from sitting on the fence and ignoring the problems of Kashmir, we have been active in encouraging India and Pakistan to find a peaceful solution to the dispute. Both sides have appreciated our efforts. We welcome, in particular, efforts being made by India and Pakistan to reduce tension and reach agreement on various confidence-building measures through a series of regular talks between their senior foreign affairs officials. That is a process which we earnestly encouraged both sides to pursue in spring 1990. Both bilaterally and with our European Comunity partners, we have reiterated our concerns about tension between India and Pakistan, about the activities of terrorist groups and those who support them and about human rights abuses.

We are aware of Indian claims, and Pakistani denials, that Kashmiri extremists are receiving support from Pakistan with training and supply of weapons. We have indicated to the Pakistan Government the concern that it would cause in Britain if official support were to be given.

My hon. Friend referred to some of the historical background to the Kashmir problem and to the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir in 1948 and 1949. Those resolutions, which were agreed to by India and Pakistan and supported by Britain, envisaged troop withdrawals on both sides and a plebiscite under United Nations auspices of all the inhabitants of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir on whether to accede to India or Pakistan. non-implementation of the resolutions was due, at least partly, to the failure of both sides to implement the provision on troop withdrawals.

Pakistan maintains that the status of Kashmir can be decided only by a plebiscite in line with United Nations resolutions. We believe that it is for India and Pakistan to decide how to resolve their dispute over Kashmir, one element of which involves disagreement over whether Kashmiris have been able to express their wishes fully already, or whether a further test of opinion should be held. It is not for us to attempt to prescribe how the problem should be resolved, but the difficulties of holding the plebiscite envisaged in the United Nations resolutions are obvious. The fact is that the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is now, in effect, split into several district parts. It has been divided de facto between India and Pakistan by the line of control, and another part has been ceded to China.

India argues that the 1947 accession of the former princely state to India was legal, that ratification of the accession in 1954 by the elected Kashmir constituent assembly fulfilled its commitment to a test of popular opinion and that Pakistan had failed to implement the basic provision of a complete withdrawal of forces.

Our position on the status of Kashmir remains that this should be settled by peaceful agreement between India and Pakistan, in accordance with their agreement in 1972 at Simla, under which both countries resolved to settle their differences through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed between them. This agreement also looked forward to a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir. I welcome the terms in which my hon. Friend raised the problem of the continuing violence in Kashmir. We share the widespread concern about this. We have consistently condemned those who use violence for political ends, and we support the Indian Government in their efforts to deal with the serious challenge from terrorist violence in Kashmir. At the same time, we continue to encourage the Indian Government to exercise the greatest restraint in dealing with the serious problems facing them. The maintenance of law and order in the face of violent challenge from certain Kashmiri extremist groups is clearly difficult. Abuses have certainly occurred on both sides. I assure the House that, in our contacts with the Indian Government, we have made clear the importance that we attach to human rights being respected.

We have emphasised the importance of allowing independent investigations by human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, and of being seen to bring to justice members of the security forces who may have misbehaved. The Indian Government have told us that allegations of abuses are thoroughly investigated, that they are concerned to bring to book those responsible for wrongdoing and that action has already been taken against a number of security force personnel.

I assure the House that we will continue to watch the situation in Kashmir closely and to encourage India and Pakistan to find a peaceful solution to this dispute. We remain ready to help, if both sides would like us to do so. We hope that the process of confidence-building between India and Pakistan will continue and that this will help to create the right conditions to bring an end to the violence and lead to a lasting settlement of a dispute which threatens political stability in India and Pakistan and has blighted the lives of many in the sub-continent.