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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy) 6:08 pm, 15th October 2019

Like my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, I welcome one aspect of the Queen’s Speech: the commitment that we will continue to play a leading role in global affairs, defending our interests and promoting our values, and that we will position ourselves at the forefront of the most complex international security issues.

That is why the sins and omissions of this Queen’s Speech are quite intriguing, because there is one point on Earth where we have a particular legacy, where promises were made and broken by the world community and where the world community has now left the most terrible state of injustice: Kashmir. So I was surprised that there has been no mention in today’s debate of our historical obligations to make good on the promises made in the 1940s. Much of this debate has rightly centred on Brexit issues, but our obligations, duties, moral responsibilities, history and commitments stretch much, much wider. We should therefore step up and do far more to raise our voice to try to bring a resolution to what is going on right now in Kashmir.

Some people say that this is a conflict between two nuclear powers—if only it was as simple as that. This is a conflict between not two nuclear powers, but three. China is the world’s biggest consumer of Gulf oil and it is building an pipeline from China through Pakistan so that it can soon access oil through that overland route. The idea that China is going to permit someone to put its thumb on what is a new jugular vein is fanciful analysis.

So I would like to know from the Minister why the British Government are insisting that this remains a bilateral conflict. That is a fantasy, one enshrined in the treaty of Simla. In recent days, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has said that that treaty is dead. This is no longer a bilateral issue, and by his unilateral action to suspend article 370 of the constitution—unilateral action prohibited by the treaty of Simla—President Modi has said in clear terms that this now requires a multilateral solution.

President Modi’s decision to suspend article 370 has set the stage for an incredibly dangerous slide into violence, whereby risk is now multiplied by the decision to deploy thousands more troops into what is already one of the most militarised areas on earth. That danger, in turn, has been multiplied yet again by the decision to suspend all communications and put the people under curfew in what surely must be one of the largest open prisons on the planet.

The UK signed a treaty, the instrument of accession, on 26 October 1947, so we are a party to this, in a way. That treaty has now been breached, but we have heard nothing from the British Government about how they plan to remedy that. Crucially, Ministers have accepted that human rights are always a multilateral issue, so we must hear something from a Government who have set out before this Parliament a clear determination to put themselves “at the forefront” of solving

“the most complex international security issues”—[Official Report, 14 October 2019;
Vol. 666, c. 5.]

We must hear a plan from them to stand up for the interests of British citizens. I am not the only one on the Opposition Benches, or in this House, who is getting cases from people who have friends and family in the area and yet have no idea what is going on with them, because there has been a communications blackout. Crucially, we now need clear and urgent action from this Government in the United Nations to ensure that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is given free and unfettered access to the area, on both Pakistan’s side and the Indian side. I want to know from the Minister what he has done to pursue this agenda in the UN.

Surely, if we are to put ourselves at the forefront of solving international difficulties, the time has come for us to push for a multilateral solution to this decades-long injustice. There have been 295 international disputes between the second world war and the 1990s that involved a use of force by one state against another, with 171 of them entailing some kind of negotiation. Where the difficulties were the most intractable and where the breakthroughs most significant were when we accepted that there was only a multilateral path to peace. That is why we turned to Senator Mitchell to help broker the Good Friday agreement. It is why the world turned to President Carter to help broker the Camp David agreement. It is why we turned to Richard Holbrooke to help bring about the Ohio accords. The injustice in Kashmir has gone on for too long and if the Government are serious about what they say—we never know, perhaps they are—they will step up to their responsibility to bring this injustice to an end.