US-Pakistan Relations

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 19th July 2011.

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Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 11:30 am, 19th July 2011

What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s policies of the state of US-Pakistan relations; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

It is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom that there is a good and close relationship between the United States and Pakistan, particularly at the present time. I am in regular contact with senior representatives of the Governments of both countries about our mutual interests, including counter-terrorism, regional security and economic development.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

Bearing in mind that the Pakistan Parliament has called for the withdrawal of US drones, the anger in Pakistan Government circles over the killing of bin Laden, and the US announcement over the withdrawal of $800 million of military aid, I am sure that the Minister will agree that the relationship between the US and Pakistan is not good. Does he agree that those two countries will be the two key players in any

Afghanistan settlement and that no country is better placed than the United Kingdom to broker or mediate a settlement between them?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I certainly agree with both the substantive points that my hon. Friend makes. It is clear that following the killing of Osama bin Laden there is an issue of confidence between the United States and Pakistan, particularly in defence and security matters. We are indeed encouraging both countries to get over the present difficulties, because their relationship is extremely important. In other respects, such as in the work being done to seek political reconciliation in Afghanistan and the work being done between the Governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States in the trilateral talks on Afghanistan, the relationship is much better. We hope that that will be a building block for restored confidence in security matters.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

The Minister will be aware that last week three US drone attacks killed at least 30 Pakistani civilians. Will he outline the UK policy on the use of Predator drones, and say what discussions he has had with his US counterparts about their use?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The issue of drones is principally a matter for the United States and Pakistan. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, we expect any conduct in a conflict to adhere to international law, including international humanitarian law. I had an opportunity to discuss matters concerning Pakistan and Afghanistan yesterday with Marc Grossman, the US special envoy, and will be meeting the Pakistani Prime Minister Mr Gillani later today. Drone strikes can be exceptionally important in targeting those who have deliberately targeted others, and the hon. Gentleman and the House will be well aware of the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan caused by terrorists over the past year and the importance of drone strikes in eliminating key targets who cause such damage to so many people.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

Following the question asked by my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway, given the importance of Pakistan as a front-line state, particularly in relation to Afghanistan, what real help can Britain give, as a strong ally of both Pakistan and the United States, to improve the relationship?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend is right that it is a very important relationship, and that it is difficult at the moment, but he is right also to highlight the fact that there is a much closer relationship between Pakistan and the United States on political reconciliation and the political track that needs to be followed in Afghanistan. We see ourselves as a key encourager of that relationship, as well as following the political track ourselves. We work very closely with both countries. As I indicated, there are elements of that relationship that are good and strong and can be built on.