Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 12:45 pm, 7th March 2019

I thank the Minister of State for advance sight of his statement.

There is great concern across this House, and in many of our constituencies, about what is happening in Kashmir and the tension that that is creating between India and Pakistan—the biggest military confrontation between the two countries for 20 years. I applaud the Foreign Office team for keeping the House updated and for the sober and constructive tone of the statement.

It is important at the outset to go back to the immediate cause of this crisis, namely the vicious terror attack on a convoy of Indian troops travelling through Pulwama on 14 February, leaving more than 40 of them dead. India has been absolutely right to take action against the terror group responsible, known as the JEM, and to demand that Pakistan take action as well.

We welcome the fact that Pakistan has started to take the necessary action, with the detention of several members of the JEM and other proscribed organisations earlier this week. As the Indian Government have done, however, we urge Pakistan to go further by, first, prosecuting those individuals if there is evidence of their links to terror offences; and, secondly, arresting and prosecuting the head of the JEM, Masood Azhar. We welcome the latest moves to ensure that Masood Azhar is finally designated as a global terrorist by the UN Security Council. May I ask the Minister of State whether there are signs of movement on that issue by China, given its previous veto of such action?

Finally on the Pulwama attack, will the Minister join me in urging the Indian authorities, at national and regional levels, to follow the welcome instructions of the Indian Supreme Court to ensure the protection and safety of the innocent civilians of Kashmiri origin—men and women, from suited businesspeople to street traders—who have faced violent reprisals across India following the attack?

I turn to the recent military escalation around the line of control. In this age of doctored images and social media misinformation, it has been genuinely bewildering trying to work out what has actually happened, as opposed to what has been claimed. I think we can all say one thing with clarity: both sides have a responsibility to dial down the rhetoric, de-escalate the tension and avoid taking any further military action—in the air or on the ground—that could inflame the situation further and risk a descent into open conflict.

As the shadow Foreign Secretary said on this subject last week, the danger of this claim and counter-claim—the tit-for-tat attacks and what we are repeatedly told are airstrikes designed to send a message—is that amid the fog of war, mistakes will be made, and even without either side intending it, a major incident will occur from which there will be no going back. I know the Minister of State will agree that instead we urgently require the resumption of immediate talks between India and Pakistan, to de-escalate the crisis and avoid any further military action.

I would go further than that and say this should be the catalyst for the resumption of proper negotiations and a substantive dialogue between India and Pakistan on the future of Kashmir. The blueprint is there in the sadly short-lived plan worked out between the Singh and Musharraf Governments in the early 2000s. If such dialogue was possible back then, and if a workable, mutually agreed plan for Kashmir was possible back then, it can be possible today or, at the very least, after the Indian elections this spring.

What we must remember about the Singh-Musharraf plan is that it had at its heart not just military disengagement on both sides but a genuine regard for the political and economic rights of the Kashmiri people that, along with their human rights and humanitarian needs, have been so tragically overlooked for the past 70 years.

Let me repeat what my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said last week: our thoughts must first and foremost be with the innocent people of Kashmir, over whom this battle is being fought. Their human rights have been serially abused, their humanitarian needs have been neglected and their wishes for their own future have been treated as unimportant.

Generation after generation of Kashmiri children face growing up trapped in the same cycle of instability, violence and fear. It is time to break that cycle. Only peaceful dialogue and a negotiated settlement can achieve that, and I hope the Minister of State will continue urging both sides not just to de-escalate the current tensions, and not just to take effective action against the terror groups that helped create that tension, but to commit to resuming constructive dialogue to eliminate those tensions for good and finally bring peace and stability to the people of Kashmir.