Pakistan and Kenya

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 7th January 2008.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary 3:32 pm, 7th January 2008

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about recent developments in Pakistan and Kenya. I am grateful to you for allowing me to combine the two statements. Both countries are important to Britain, and rightly important to many hon. Members. I know that the Foreign Affairs Committee visited Pakistan in November 2006, and that it was a key focus of the Committee's report on foreign policy aspects of the war on terror in July 2006 and its subsequent report on South Asia in May 2007. I think I am right in saying that several hon. Members are now returning from Pakistan, having gone there to observe the elections that were planned for next week, and will now try to rearrange their visit.

The situations in Pakistan and Kenya are very different, and I shall deal with them separately, but important elements are common to the recent crises that have afflicted both those regional powers. Both countries have experienced strong economic growth in recent years and the middle class is growing, but poverty is widespread and rising inequality is causing frustration and disillusionment. Both countries face violence and terrorism, and both are undergoing political transition. They are working to embed democratic systems and structures, but struggling to overcome the tribal or dynastic allegiances which have fed personality politics.

In these circumstances, there is a temptation to turn away. However, there are 800,000 British people of Pakistani origin; there are an estimated 13,000 British citizens resident in Kenya, and over a quarter of a million British tourists visit each year. The United Kingdom is Kenya's largest foreign investor, and our bilateral trade with Pakistan is worth some £1 billion; and, of course, both Pakistan and Kenya are key partners in the fight against al-Qaeda. That is why the Government are committed to using all their assets to help those countries on the path to peaceful and prosperous development.

I will begin with Pakistan. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in reiterating our condolences to the family of Mrs. Bhutto at this terrible time and to the other bereaved Pakistani families who are grieving for loved ones who were killed or who suffered injuries in the senseless attack of 27 December. There is cross-party condemnation in this House of terrorism and a determination to stand with the people of Pakistan against the power of the bomb and the bullet, and I welcome that.

Whatever the disputes about her periods in office, Benazir Bhutto showed in her words and actions a deep commitment to her country. She knew the risks of her return to campaign for election but was convinced that her country needed her. The target of her assassins are all those committed to democracy in Pakistan and it is vital that they do not succeed. The courage shown by Mrs. Bhutto is now required of others as they take forward the drive for democracy and modernisation.

The Government's aims and role are fourfold. The first priority is to ensure that the circumstances of Mrs. Bhutto's death are properly established. A five-member UK police team arrived in Pakistan at the end of last week and has begun work in support of Pakistani colleagues.

The second priority is to promote free and fair elections. The delay in the elections as a result of the assassination is regrettable but the period between now and 18 February needs to be used to build confidence in the democratic process. When I spoke to the House on 7 November, I made clear my conviction that democracy and the rule of law were allies of stability and development in Pakistan. Since then, President Musharraf has retired from the military. He has lifted the state of emergency. Almost all political prisoners have been released and most media restrictions have been rescinded. But more needs to be done, and we have continued to stress the Pakistani Government's responsibility to create a level playing field under which credible and transparent elections can take place. This means that all remaining political detainees need to be released and the remaining restrictions on the media must be lifted.

In my last telephone call with Mrs. Bhutto on 9 December, I pledged that the UK would work on the details of the election process. In recent days, the Prime Minister has discussed the elections on three separate occasions with President Musharraf. I have also spoken to interim Pakistani Foreign Minister ul-Haque. We continue to call on the Government of Pakistan to improve the prospects for credible elections, particularly by increasing transparency, both now and on election day itself. This includes setting out clearly and early where all of the approximately 54,000 polling stations will be, posting the results for each station publicly immediately after the count and ensuring that the media's ability to report is untrammelled.

I am glad that the EU is now working to put together a full-scale election observation mission. I understand that the American International Republican Institute mission may also be reinstated. I believe that the Commonwealth can make an important, positive contribution and I hope that Pakistan will decide to invite an observer mission.

Our third priority is further to improve counter-terrorism co-operation. The deadly attack on Benazir Bhutto shows terrorism to be a threat to Pakistan, not just to the west. Over the last year, hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in shootings and suicide bomb attacks in that country. We have reiterated the UK Government's commitment to build on the already significant counter-terrorism support that we provide to Pakistan. A team of cross-Government UK experts will travel to Pakistan next week for further consultations. This will be a precursor to a further British visit to deepen our counter-terrorism relationship.

Fourthly, we are determined to ensure that British citizens of Pakistani heritage and Pakistanis resident in the United Kingdom are informed about developments and engaged in the drive to build a decent society in Pakistan. I met some of their community leaders earlier today. Although the next five weeks are important, so are the next five years and beyond, and economic, social and political development in Pakistan need to proceed hand in hand, with international support.

Kenya provided the second crisis of the new year break. When President Kibaki won the presidency in 2002, it was hailed as the most free and fair election Kenya had seen. Daniel Arap Moi's party accepted the result and ceded power. Tribal and ethnic divisions were overcome as the population rallied behind the new Government. It was a moment of great optimism. It is a marked contrast with the situation that has unfolded since the election on 27 December. I know I speak for the entire House in condemning the appalling post-election violence in Kenya, particularly the brutal killing of Kikuyu women and children in the church near Eldoret on 1 January.

Let me deal with the three issues that have preoccupied the Government and indeed the whole international community over the last week: violence and the resulting humanitarian crisis; the elections; and mediation. I have arranged for the nine statements put out by myself, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development over the last week to be deposited in a single file in the Library. I have spoken to our high commissioner in the last hour and I can confirm that his view is that of the media reports: that the urban violence of the middle of last week has subsided. That is obviously welcome, but the reporting from rural areas suggests that there are up to 250,000 refugees, and there is the potential for violence to erupt again. That is why since 2 January our travel advice, along with other countries', has advised against non-essential travel to Kenya. That advice will remain in place until the security and political situation is clarified. We are advising Britons in Kenya to exercise extreme caution, to remain indoors in the affected areas, and to seek local advice, from the tour operators or local authorities, if they need to travel.

The humanitarian crisis we have seen unfolding on our television screens is due entirely to the post-election violence. The UN, World Food Programme and Red Cross are leading the international effort. The Department for International Development is monitoring the situation closely and has had a team on the ground in western Kenya. A £1 million contribution to the Red Cross was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development last week, and it has helped to provide shelter for those displaced and to facilitate major food shipments from Mombasa, which took place over the weekend. DFID stands ready to provide more assistance if it is needed.

In respect of the election itself, millions of Kenyans queued for hours, peacefully and with dignity, to cast their votes for parliamentary and presidential candidates after a relatively calm election campaign. It is vital not just for Kenya, but for the whole of Africa with important elections over the next 18 months, that the democratic process works and is seen to work. However, the counting of votes in the presidential election, and particularly the reporting of votes from local to regional and then national centres, has, according to reliable European Union observation, been plagued by irregularity. Those irregularities stand in the way of the formation of a stable Kenyan Government who would have the confidence of their own people and the international community.

All allegations of fraud need to be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. That requires due legal process, but there is also a need for political mediation. Individual acts of fraud are reprehensible, but there is a deeper issue. Whatever the actual result, the country was deeply split. Kenya needs the diversity of its views to be respected, but the presidential system is designed to concentrate power when Kenya's immediate and medium-term future requires the sharing of power.

Kenya's political leaders must be willing to make the necessary compromises to find a way forward. They are more likely to do so with external help. That is why at the heart of all our conversations—with Kenyan, African, EU, Commonwealth, US and UN partners—has been the need for a credible mediation process. I am pleased that President Kufuor of Ghana, the current chairman of the African Union, is due to arrive in Kenya soon, and he will do so with our full support. He needs Kenyan leaders ready to engage. On 2 January Condoleezza Rice and I called for a "spirit of compromise" from those leaders. If they fail to compromise, they will forfeit the confidence, good will and support of their own people and the international community. The stakes are high for the Kenyan people, and we will remain fully engaged on the political and consular track.

May I conclude by thanking staff in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, in-country and in London, for their outstanding consular and political work around the clock in the very trying circumstances of the last 10 days? Their work is far from done, but both countries are better off for their engagement, and they deserve the thanks of the House.

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