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

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State 12:45 pm, 7th March 2019

I thank the hon. Lady for her thoughtful and wise words. She is absolutely right in many ways about one of the depressing things for all of us as parliamentarians in recent months. Despite all the attention on the battles being fought on Brexit, a huge amount of work is going on on this issue. We all feel strongly about this, and I have spent a lot of time, either on the phone, in video conferences or in person, with our excellent ambassadors, Sir Dominic Asquith in New Delhi and Tom Drew in Pakistan. I realise just how much work has gone on behind the scenes as we try to play our part in bringing about the dialogue to which the hon. Lady refers. Where I entirely agree with her, and I think the whole House would agree, is that it is time to break the cycle, which can happen only through dialogue. She is quite right to recognise that, after the desperately tragic events of 14 February, making substantive steps forward in the next five or six weeks, during the Indian elections, is not entirely realistic. However, once the dust has settled on those elections—obviously in Imran Khan we have a relatively new Pakistani Prime Minister, too—one hopes that sense will prevail and there can be ongoing dialogue. Obviously, the UK stands ready to keep lines of communication open, as we have over the difficult past fortnight or so. We will play our part in that regard.

The hon. Lady asked some specific questions, one of which was about the hoped-for movement by China. Clearly a lot of discussions are taking place at the UN Security Council, and we hope that any veto on proscribing and listing Masood Azhar will not come about. The situation is clearly fluid. As soon as I am in a position to say more, I will naturally do so.

The hon. Lady is right to say that the Indian Supreme Court has made judgments to which we should all pay close attention in relation to the duties and responsibilities of the Kashmiri public.

The hon. Lady referenced the idea that what has happened is still open to some dispute, and I read a rather perceptive piece in The Guardian yesterday that said, rather skilfully, that both sides have an interest in keeping the narrative malleable. That gives both India and Pakistan room to claim victory but also, more importantly, to refrain from further strikes. There is a sense of each side perhaps being able to get the last word because there is that sense of ambiguity, and such ambiguity can at times assist de-escalatory sentiment. It is therefore all the more important for us to maintain elements of that ambiguity, rather than trying to ramp up the pressure.

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words, which add so much to our diplomacy. There will always be differences of nuance, and perhaps even more fundamental differences, on Foreign Office-related affairs, but it adds so much more to our voice in diplomatic quarters if we are, at times, able to speak as one, particularly during such a tragic era.