Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 12 March 1997.

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Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale 1:45, 12 March 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had recently with the Indian Government regarding Jammu—Kashmir. [18296]

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed Jammu and Kashmir last month with Prime Minister Deve Gowda and Finance Minister Chidambaram in the margins of the World Economic summit, in Davos. I raised the subject in all my discussions when I visited Pakistan and India, from 26 February to 1 March.

Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale

Is the Minister aware that we are still receiving reports from Indian-controlled Kashmir of killings, torture and rape'? Does he agree that a just solution that involves not only the Governments of India and Pakistan but the people of Kashmir must be found urgently? The situation is becoming even more urgent, as we now know that Pakistan and India are nuclear powers.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It has always been the Government's position that a solution to the Kashmir question must be between India and Pakistan, as the nations involved. However, it is also self-evident that we have a humanitarian interest in the welfare of ordinary Kashmiris. During my visit two weeks ago, I met Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, and we discussed the very issues that the hon. Lady mentioned—the need for prosperity, order and reconstruction in Kashmir, for the sake of the welfare of ordinary Kashmiris. The Government attach great importance to that goal.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington , Aylesbury

Is my hon. Friend any more optimistic after his meetings with the two Kashmiri representatives about the chances of restoring respect for human rights and moving towards a political settlement that is acceptable to the people of Kashmir? Does he think that there will be any role for the United Kingdom in using its good office to help promote such a settlement?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

At the risk of repeating myself, given my answer to a previous question, we make our good offices available should both sides of a conflict wish to use them. The settlement must be between India and Pakistan. It is extremely encouraging that the new Pakistani Government have used their large mandate to undertake an early dialogue with India. Overtures are being made in both capitals, and the responses are encouraging. We hope that a wider and deeper dialogue will emerge from those.I am delighted by the signs that high-level talks will be held later this month. That bodes well for the future.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston

I congratulate the Minister on being the first Minister for decades to pay an official visit to Srinagar, and I join him in welcoming the forthcoming talks at ministerial level between India and Pakistan. Does he agree that, if there is to be a successful settlement to halt the loss of life and breach of human rights in Kashmir, it must be acceptable to the peoples of Kashmir? Will he assure the House that there will be no let-up in the pressure for information on what has happened to the missing hostages until they are released or their relatives are told the truth of what has happened to them?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

To start with the right hon. Gentleman's second point, one of the main reasons for my visit to India and Pakistan was to discuss the hostages and show both Governments that the issue is high on our political agenda. We have made it quite clear that we continue in our efforts to resolve the matter. The right hon. Gentleman has the Government's complete assurance on that. We have always made it clear, as one of the Government's three points on a Kashmir settlement, that we believe in an improvement in human rights and a genuine political process that has to be underpinned by stability and prosperity. I am quite encouraged, therefore, by the return to civilian policing in Kashmir as increased civil order is a prerequisite to the solution that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to see.