Pakistan

– in the House of Lords at 8:11 pm on 16th July 2001.

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Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop 8:11 pm, 16th July 2001

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is the social and political situation in Pakistan.

My Lords, this is an opportune time for my Question to be put before the House. We have just completed our consideration of the International Development Bill and we have all heard of the promising meetings being held in the romantic city of Agra. I hope that the results will be as good as the accounts of those meetings.

The story of democracy in Pakistan has been a story of abuse. Cynical and corrupt politicians have used the mechanisms of democracy to maintain their stranglehold on power to enrich themselves, their relatives and their friends at the expense of ordinary people. Naturally, this House cannot welcome the suspension of democratic norms anywhere and of course Pakistan should not be an exception. Nevertheless, it can be argued that the situation was so bad that a breathing space and a new start were needed. We said as much around 18 months ago.

What has happened in that breathing space? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is of the view that there has been,

"notable success in fiscal and monetary policy".

According to the FCO, inflation has fallen considerably, rationalisation of the income tax structure has taken place and there has even been modest growth, in spite of sluggishness in the agricultural sector because of prolonged drought. Foreign exchange reserves have been built up and the country is on track for further international assistance.

In other areas such as health and education, the government seem to be full of good intentions and we must welcome their emphasis on greater access to education for girls and women and on the improvement of rural health facilities. We must ask, however, whether there is the capacity for delivering such policies and how Her Majesty's Government are assisting in capacity-building. Clearly, some remarkable initiatives so far as concerns the health sector have been put in place in, for example, the North-West Frontier Province, but greater stress needs to be put on building capacity for systems rather than relying on a few charismatic individuals.

The recovery of loans from defaulters, the broadening of the income tax base and a greater willingness to be accountable and transparent are all to be welcomed. According to independent sources, Pakistan's record of transparency and accountability has improved by some 1,000 per cent--I have to say that that was from a very low base. There is still a long way to go, but an important start has been made.

On the domestic scene, however, some endemic problems remain. We have already noted the intention for gender equity in education. In addition, the local bodies' elections have transformed the role of women in politics, at least at the local level. Nevertheless, the position of women in society generally remains fragile. Domestic violence, the rape of disadvantaged women, including those from religious minorities, and the so-called "honour killings" remain entrenched. In the Sharia courts, women are discriminated against in terms of giving evidence, even in cases where they themselves are the victims.

On taking power, the government declared their honourable intentions towards religious minorities and, generally speaking, they have encouraged tolerance of and participation by those communities in national and civic life. However, they have not been able fully to address the question of the blasphemy laws, which have been used by extremists and other vested interests to victimise not only members of the minority communities but even Muslims with whom these extremists disagree. The blasphemy laws--in particular Section 295-C of the penal code--are bad; dare I say that they are un-Islamic laws which will continue to haunt the conscience of the nation until they are abolished. In the meantime, the government must act to prevent their abuse.

I welcome attempts by the Minister for law and parliamentary affairs to reform the process of reporting, investigating and prosecuting major crime. In a country where the police and local officials can come under heavy pressure, it is extremely important that the investigation of the most serious crime is undertaken nationally or regionally under the supervision of the appropriate ministries of law.

The Government of Pakistan have set out a timetable for the restoration of democracy. This has to be done in a way that does not involve a return to the politics of greed of the 1990s. A stable system, with the necessary checks and balances, is very much to be desired. Moreover, such a restoration should be made on the basis of one person, one vote, and no one should be disenfranchised from the constituency in which they live because of their religion or any other consideration. If it is thought that groups such as women or religious minorities would not be adequately represented by these means, no doubt consideration could be given to providing some additional means of securing their representation in the parliament and other bodies. It is important that neither the United Kingdom nor the Commonwealth should encourage any form of democracy which leaves a significant number of people without a local franchise. Estimates of the size of religious minorities, for example, should be reliable and possibly undertaken with international observation. The present official figures do not provide an accurate picture and further marginalise the minority population.

Is it possible to ask how Her Majesty's Government are assisting both India and Pakistan in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, in particular in the present negotiations? For Pakistan, this matter affects everything, from the extent of the defence budget to relations with the Taliban on its western and northern frontiers. The evolution of a stable, tolerant and prosperous society depends on the solution of this problem. We hope that the recent visit made by President Musharraf to New Delhi will have begun a process of creating confidence, reducing tension and encouraging dialogue between the various parties involved, including of course the Kashmiri people themselves.

An encouraging beginning has been made, but many good intentions have to be realised and the present government must deliver on their promises. There is nowhere else to turn. I hope that the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane will note the progress that has been made, and set out an agenda which will encourage Pakistan in the direction of a restoration of democracy which can be recognised as authentic by all.

Mohammed Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, lamenting the sale of Kashmir to the Dogras by the British, says in his Persian magnum opus, the Javed Nama:

"Dehqan u kist u jui u khayaban farochtand

Qaumi farochtand u che arzan farochtand".

Which means:

"Peasant and field and river and garden they have sold,

A whole nation they have sold and how cheaply they have sold!"

What Iqbal said of Kashmir is surely also true of the rest of Pakistan: so often its own leaders have sold it out. We hope that now this sorry tale will come to an end and the people set free.

Photo of Lord Weatherill Lord Weatherill Crossbench 8:21 pm, 16th July 2001

My Lords, at a moment when I thought my time had come during a difficult and confused battle in the Arakan, the driver of my tank passed me a message. It was:

"Have faith in God, Sahib--he is a very reliable fellow".

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester may have had some divine help in achieving this debate at a time when the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan are meeting in Agra. All of us who have a regard and affection for India and Pakistan will pray that this historic meeting will begin the process of resolving the problems which have divided both countries and have led to two wars between them.

I have said in previous debates--I repeat it again today--that no Speaker of the House of Commons can possibly welcome or approve a military regime. But the way in which General Pervez Musharraf assumed the position of Chief Executive in 1999 is well documented, and I will not repeat it here. Equally well documented is the fact that a succession of nominally democratic governments, through mismanagement and corruption, left Pakistan in a state of virtual bankruptcy. It is a well documented fact that the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, both inside Pakistan and elsewhere, welcomed the relief from the corruption and oppression that had brought their country virtually to its knees in the name of democracy.

The right reverend Prelate has drawn attention to the difficulties faced by the Government of Pakistan and the progress that has been made in the past two years. It has not been as swift as we would like, or as far reaching as we would have wished. Nevertheless, as the right reverend Prelate said, the economy is reviving; inflation is down; income tax is no longer a voluntary tax for a few privileged people but is more broadly based; the electoral register has been reorganised and brought up to date; and elections at local level have taken place. The turn out of more than 44 per cent, should give much pleasure to all of us in our country.

Furthermore, General Musharraf has said that he will honour the timetable laid down by the Supreme Court of Pakistan that elections to the provincial assemblies and to the National Assembly will be held next year.

Progress could be even greater--and certainly more rapid--if the problem of Kashmir could be resolved. Pakistan cannot afford the military costs involved when so much needs to be done to improve the lot of the people. And the same is true of India. To its great credit, it is the world's largest democracy, but it does have unacceptable extremes of great wealth and great poverty.

When I was chairman of the Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers in 1988, I well remember Speaker Mutasa, the Speaker of the Zimbabwe Parliament, saying a propos of South Africa, that its problems and its acceptance of democracy could be best achieved through the Commonwealth family. He went on to say that some countries in the Commonwealth had had to fight for their independence; others had accepted it with great reluctance. Indeed, when I stepped ashore in the British Virgin Islands, the Speaker extended his hand and said, "I hope you have not come to give us our independence". So the Commonwealth could resolve many of these problems.

There is an old adage:

"Remember your friends. Beware of your enemies".

Pakistan has been a staunch friend of our country, fighting with us in defence of freedom and democracy in two world wars. I was privileged to serve with its forces in the last war. What an irony it is that Pakistan's membership of the Commonwealth has been suspended, while Zimbabwe, despite its despotic government, remains a full member.

The Commonwealth has a vested interest in helping to ensure a friendly and a prosperous Pakistan in a part of the world which is highly unstable and volatile. I fervently hope that at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane the Commonwealth will resolve to help Pakistan to solve its problems, internally and externally, and assist in the process of bringing it back to prosperity and democracy. I end: Pakistan Zindabad!

Photo of Lord Ahmed Lord Ahmed Labour 8:27 pm, 16th July 2001

My Lords, I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for securing this debate at such an important time in history for Pakistan. I also welcome and congratulate both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee on their two-day summit in Agra. I understand that there have been frank, cordial and constructive talks between the two participants. However, I am saddened to hear that the wording of a joint declaration has not been agreed between the two heads of state.

Since our last debate in the House, much has happened in Pakistan, but little has changed the fate of more than 40 per cent of the population. Tragically, only a few days ago, another poverty-stricken man in Punjab killed his wife and eight children as he had no means to feed them and could not bear to see them starve. Unfortunately, the suicide rate for the same reason has gone up.

While Pakistan has performed better than some of its neighbours, such as Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, according to the UN report on the human development index, Pakistan has been placed 127th out of 162 countries. More than 60 million people live below the official poverty line.

Pakistan's debt is about 34 billion US dollars and well over 70 per cent of the national budget is used for the interest repayments on debt and on the armed forces. According to the World Bank's one dollar a day estimate, out of the 1.3 billion people in the world, 515 million (50 per cent) live in south Asia, whereas the regional share of the global population is 23 per cent. In Pakistan, both the number of households, as well as its percentage share, has increased substantially, especially during the 1990s.

The literacy rate is about 40 per cent in Pakistan, while female illiteracy is more than 75 per cent. The infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births in Pakistan is 95. This is much greater than other developing countries, which average 65. Waterborne diseases are rampant as 56 million people in Pakistan do not have access to clean drinking water. The situation with respect to sanitation--another deadly indicator--is even worse: 98 million people in Pakistan are living without proper sanitation facilities.

Tragically, there are 9 million malnourished children in Pakistan, and a majority of children drop out of the primary school education system. Sadly, military expenditure in Pakistan is 150 per cent of the total spending on education and health. Let us hope that the highly contentious issue of Kashmir can be resolved soon, so that money can be better spent on the eradication of poverty both in India and in Pakistan, rather than being wasted on weapons and armies.

Pakistan has another huge burden on its resources: it has over 3 million refugees from Afghanistan. Many believe that a large part of the problem involving drugs, terrorism and the Kalashnikov culture in Pakistan has been a result of the invasion of Afghanistan in Soviet times, followed by the civil war. Many Pakistanis feel that although the war against the invading Soviet Union was for the western countries, Pakistan has been left to pick up the pieces and to deal with the consequences.

During my last visit to Pakistan, an elderly man said to me, "We have been loyal friends of the British and American people. However, Pakistan has never been forgiven by Muslim Egypt for our role in the Suez crisis. We supported the allies during the Gulf crisis and we have fought the European war against Communism in Afghanistan. Sadly, the developed world has turned its back on our poverty and hunger. Will you ask them to write off our debt?". In replying, will my noble friend the Minister say what measures a future Pakistan government need to take in order to qualify for debt relief, like Poland and Uganda?

I should like to congratulate the Pakistan Government on their devolution programme and on the recent successful local and district elections, including the legislative elections in Azad Kashmir. These were generally believed to be fair and without violence.

Although General Musharaff's government promised accountability, transparency and human rights, unfortunately there has been little improvement in these areas. According to Transparency International, Pakistan was the 12th most corrupt country in the world in 1999 and remains 12th in 2001. The accountability bureau concentrated much on the opponents of the government, rather than on applying rules equally across the spectrum.

According to the world report from Human Rights Watch for the year 2000:

"Respect for civil and political rights deteriorated significantly in the year following the bloodless military coup on 12th October, 1999, that deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan. General Pervez Musharraf's administration began to address some longstanding justice issues--notably, through the adoption of Pakistan's first federal juvenile justice law and the establishment of a commission on the status of women, but it also greatly augmented executive powers and curtailed the independence of the judiciary. It moved to neutralise political parties through the application of broadly defined laws governing terrorism, sedition, and public order, and through the establishment of a powerful extra-constitutional 'accountability' bureau. Opposition party members were subjected to prolonged detention without charge, some were tortured in custody. Sectarian violence and attacks on religious minorities continued and, despite renewed attention to the issue, the Government failed to provide meaningful recourse for women victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence".

Despite the government's stated commitment to human rights protection, human rights violation including torture and death in custody increased during 2000. Minorities were not given adequate protection when religiously motivated violence flared up. The government also failed to repeal blasphemy laws which allow the persecution of religious minorities.

General Musharraf's government has tried to control illegal weapons which have become instruments to settle political sectarian and personal differences. I ask my noble friend the Minister: what expert advice and assistance can Her Majesty's Government offer in programmes to provide security, liberty and the strengthening of institutions?

Finally, I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government summit should set a clear timetable for introducing people's representation at all levels of government. This would include parliamentary and provincial elections as mandated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan within a stipulated period. I hope that political decisions by the Commonwealth will not penalise the people of Pakistan.

Photo of The Bishop of Bath and Wells The Bishop of Bath and Wells Bishop 8:35 pm, 16th July 2001

My Lords, I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for enabling this debate to take place. I shall refer to only one issue, which I believe to be important; namely, the relationship between the faith communities.

Part of my history is that I was co-founder of the Interfaith Network in the UK, and for 13 years I was Bishop of Stepney. Much of my time then was spent defending the rights of minority ethnic groups. It was a great enrichment of my life to gain so many friends from other faiths. One of the essential factors was the defence of those faiths in our communities--especially that of Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh and also that of Hindus and Sikhs. People usually speak of religion as a source of conflict; and, sadly, so it is. But I do not believe that that is inevitable in human history. That is the way in which people have often been divided, but there has to be another way.

During that time we learnt to share mutual understanding--learning and listening to each other, showing respect for each other and for each other's beliefs, and learning about the ways in which we lived. From such encounters we received so many examples of strength and encouragement. People's backgrounds, cultures and religious beliefs--the spiritual realities--are the things that make us what we are. I was interested to note that praying together was not a problem so long as we used no words. When the relationships are good, the communication improves. I have many profound and happy memories of people of all faiths coming together in an attempt to understand the will of God.

Of course, we also have much in common. Christians, Jews and Muslims have Abraham as their father. All could stand and worship at Hebron--if it were not for the war going on around them. We could all stand at the tomb of Abraham and find a common path to God. We share many moral standards--not all, of course; and the differences are important.

One thing that I learnt in East London was the tremendous reverence for God that existed in the communities there. I used to think how wonderful it would be if we saw 500 men who were Christians going to a local church to worship God--the pattern of prayer. All these things made a tremendous impact upon us. We have much to learn from each other as communities of faith. But, in our humanity, we build walls or barbed wire fences, or just hatred; we hurl abuse at each other, and in some parts of the world we persecute each other. We see only the differences. We forget what we have in common--which is so much greater.

I believe that life-long friendships, mutual humility and reverence to the faith of others can change the world. My great predecessor, Archbishop Huddleston, used to call it "the greater ecumenism". He was not someone who lived in cloud-cuckoo-land, but someone who lived very close to the centre of reality. He truly believed that the thing most needed by the world was religious tolerance and mutual understanding.

My point is a very simple one: religion should be seen not always as a cause of division, of hatred or of war. We should learn somehow from all the experience that we have that it has great potential for mediation and reconciliation. Who can doubt that Desmond Tutu's deep and happy faith played a huge part in reconciliation in South Africa after the most terrible wrong-doings? I just wish that the inter-faith movement could receive more attention throughout the world, because I believe that it carries within it the possibility of solving some of our very worst conflicts. I wonder whether there are ways in which these developments can be shared on a wider basis.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 8:41 pm, 16th July 2001

My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate for bringing this matter before the House tonight. Pakistan's armed forces and politicians are currently turned towards Kashmir and the threat from India over that disputed territory. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said, the traditional enemy was Russia and its ability to arm and infiltrate the people of Afghanistan, especially the Tadjik population in the north. Now the tables are turned, but the war goes on. The Khyber Pass has seen waves of Afghan refugees, not warriors, pouring into the plains of the North West Frontier Province. The UN reported in February that another 170,000 people had fled the effects of war and drought, on top of over 1.2 million already in Pakistan. There are also 1.3 million refugees in Iran, as well as tens of thousands scattered in at least 68 countries across the world, of whom only 5,000 applied for asylum in the United Kingdom last year.

Afghans are now the single largest group of refugees in the world; and yet the world is showing increasing hostility and resentment towards them. Neighbouring countries are closing their borders, and Europe is not in the mood to take more. I should like to quote from the statement of the UNHCR dated 10th July:

"The numbers of Afghan asylum-seekers spreading out beyond the neighbouring asylum countries has climbed dramatically over the past four years as conditions inside Afghanistan have continued to deteriorate. In 2000, Afghans were arriving in countries as diverse as Australia, Cambodia, Cuba and Iceland ... When arriving in industrialised countries, Afghans--like other asylum-seekers--are facing an ever-growing barricade of exclusionary measures designed to keep them out. In some countries they find themselves slapped straight into detention, in others they simply fold into a wider group generally stigmatized as bogus and unwanted".

The Pakistan Government have done Afghanistan a service in hosting so many refugees during many years of the civil war. The Pashtu people have much in common with both countries. The triumph of the Taliban owes a lot to the training, weaponry and other resources that they have received during their asylum in Pakistan; and, indeed, in the West. After Russia's defeat it was hoped that the thousands of refugees repatriated with the help of UNHCR would remain. However, since the Taliban have been in power, the numbers returning have steadily increased, partly because of the war in the north but also from the redoubled effects of the worst drought for 30 years. Crop failures, loss of livestock, rising prices and acute water shortages have made permanent settlement impossible even in peaceful areas.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's attitude towards refugees is changing mainly because of its desire to accommodate the Taliban regime. The regional government in the North West Frontier Province refuses to allow the registration of new arrivals. It has even decided to ignore the international community and repatriate new refugees by force: 80,000 have been squeezed on to a site called Jalozai in conditions that the UN described a few months ago as,

"so crowded and desperate that it is virtually impossible to distribute aid there without provoking a desperate and possibly life-threatening stampede".

This is a very acute problem. Some of my personal friends work in the area with the United Nations or NGOs, such as Save the Children and Care International. I know that they are experiencing an unusual crisis even for experienced aid workers. They say that as the UN has failed to influence the Government of Pakistan it is now up to the world's governments to persuade them. At the same time, there is no point in accusing Pakistan if we are not willing to take our fair share of Afghan refugees. This may be the right moment to ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through the Minister--and, in part, the new Foreign Secretary--what he meant earlier this year when, as Home Secretary, he spoke of an expanded use of resettlement procedure outside Europe. Does the Minister, for example, envisage new, internationally-supervised detention centres outside Peshawar in Pakistan--a sort of super refugee camp? Alternatively, will the Government continue to meet their responsibilities in Europe, and look more favourably on Afghan refugees under both the right of asylum and the exceptional leave to remain procedures?

The only alternative is a political settlement in Afghanistan, which still seems a very long way off. It would help to reduce the flow of refugees from the north. Here the aid NGOs are quite clear. If Russia and western governments continue to support General Masoud's northern alliance, the Taliban will continue to rely on Pakistan for help. The US State Department warned in April:

"Credible reporting indicates that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with material, fuel, funding, technical assistance and military advisers. Pakistan has not prevented large numbers of Pakistani nationals from moving into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. Islamabad also failed to take effective steps to curb the activities of certain madrassas, or religious schools, that serve as recruiting grounds for terrorism".

We must recognise that it is not only Pakistan that is fuelling this conflict but all governments, including our own, who are behind the UN sanctions and the one-sided arms embargo aimed at the Taliban. Of course, I understand the stated reasons for sanctions in the wake of human rights offences, which, as we have heard, mirror in many ways those taking place in Pakistan. But are those sanctions really having the desired effect? In a recent oral Question, I asked the Government whether they accepted that the people of Afghanistan are suffering from these sanctions, which are only cutting them off from the rest of the world.

In one of the very poorest countries, the arms race has become another cause of poverty and misery. Humanitarian agencies, including those within the UN system, would like to see a high level diplomatic initiative aimed at peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan, including an end to the drugs and arms trade. I should be most grateful to hear the Minister's comment on the feasibility of this plan. Can he tell us what is the United Kingdom's position in this respect? Until Pakistan sees the economic and political advantages of such a move, it will simply continue with the present policy.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 8:49 pm, 16th July 2001

My Lords, I join other speakers in welcoming this timely and topical debate, and in congratulating the right reverend Prelate on providing us with the occasion to talk about Pakistan. It is particularly timely because it follows immediately an important and quite encouraging meeting between the leaders of India and Pakistan. The Question also sets the scene well by linking, on the one hand, the economic and social situation, and, on the other hand, the political situation in Pakistan.

The weaknesses of the Pakistan economy, the rigidity of its social and landowning structures, and the failure to catch the tide of modernisation and liberalisation which has boosted so many of the economies further to the east of Pakistan and the continent of Asia, have heavily contributed to the political instability of the state which has been endemic since it was first established in the 1940s. Politics, the alternation of flawed parliamentary regimes with military ones, the failure of the successive transitions from military rule to lay any solid foundations for democracy and the corruption and abuses of power by both parliamentary and military regimes have undermined any attempt to put the economic and social situation on to a sounder footing--so the two have fed each other.

Moreover, Pakistan's predicament has been greatly complicated by external factors. The alternation of cold peace and three hot wars with its neighbour India have prevented the establishment of mutually beneficial trading and investment links while giving rise to a level of military spending of 17.5 per cent of its public expenditure--or 6 per cent of the GNP of one of the poorest countries in the world. Those figures cannot in the long term be justifiable or sustainable. The turmoil in Afghanistan, which has lasted for many years, has precipitated huge destabilising flows of refugees into Pakistan, as my noble friend has just said. All in all, Pakistan does not live in a nice neighbourhood.

Although it is easy to be critical of Pakistan, of its lack of democracy, of its poor relations with its neighbours and of its nuclear weapons programme, it is important to do so from a position of understanding and sympathy for its predicament and one of realisation that not all its misfortunes are of its own making, nor are they ones easily soluble by stock solutions. As a former colonial power, Britain has to be particularly careful to avoid appearing meddling or patronising. But our links with Pakistan through the Commonwealth and through those of our citizens who originated in Pakistan are far too many and far too strong to make turning our back on that country a conceivable option.

If we say to Pakistan that a move back to democracy over time is really essential to the future stability of the country, we must do so not as a developed country seeking to impose its own blueprint and institutions on another country in a quite different situation, but as a member of the Commonwealth committed to the proposition and to support for democracy. It is surely fair also for us to point out that it was the failure of previous military regimes--those of Ayub, of Yahya and of Zia--to prepare the ground for a return to civilian parliamentary rule that was not only part of their own undoing but also contributed to the weakness of the parliamentary governments which followed them. There are surely lessons to be learned there.

Similarly, if we deplore the rise of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies in Pakistan, we must not do so in a spirit of what could be called "Islamaphobia". There is no necessary link between Islam and fundamentalism, any more than there is between other religions and the zealots who profess to speak in their name. The objection to fundamentalism is not that it is Islamic, but that it is extreme, intolerant and does not respect the human and political rights of others. In the context of Pakistan's attitude towards religious fundamentalism, it is not unreasonable for its friends to expect that it should take a more rigorous and less supportive attitude than it has in the past towards the Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan. That regime has been sanctioned by the United Nations for its unwillingness to act against international terrorism and it has a truly horrendous record of human rights abuses, particularly against women.

I referred at the outset to the weekend meeting between the rulers of India and Pakistan. One must be cautious about throwing one's hat in the air too soon--there have been too many false dawns before. Remember that the Lahore summit of 1999 was shortly followed by the worst ever bout of fighting along the line of control in Kashmir. Neither leader will have found it easy to go to the summit. Both have plenty of nay-sayers behind them. So their courage can be applauded, as can the signs that a real dialogue is under way. But outsiders must be careful not to be too intrusive, nor should they take sides. That is seldom helpful, except in narrow, tactical terms. We should welcome and support the process and in particular express the hope that these two nuclear powers will find ways--as the United States and the Soviet Union did after many false starts--of establishing confidence-building measures and procedures designed to guard against any recourse to those appalling weapons.

Some of the things that may be said in our debate may arouse a certain amount of resentment in Pakistan. However, they should not and I hope that they will not. It should rather be seen as an occasion which reflects the very real interest we have in the relationship between our two countries and the desire which we have to contribute constructively to a better future for the people of Pakistan whose lot has not been, and still is not, an easy one.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 8:55 pm, 16th July 2001

My Lords, I believe that everyone who has spoken has congratulated the right reverend Prelate on his prescience in arranging the debate at a time when the summit meeting in Agra between the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan is approaching its completion. We wish them well in their deliberations as there is no doubt whatsoever that peaceful relations between the two great powers in the subcontinent are the key to political and social progress in Pakistan and, indeed, throughout the whole region. As has been said, if military spending on both sides could be reduced, and if trade, investment and tourism could be opened up between them, that would transform the situation in the region and would open up enormous opportunities for the people of Pakistan and of the rest of the subcontinent.

It was encouraging to hear that there has been a good atmosphere at the talks. As I understand it, Prime Minister Vajpayee has accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan at some unspecified date in the future. I believe that the two leaders genuinely did want to find areas of agreement, although on the central question of Kashmir it was hard to imagine how either of them could move away from positions that they had adopted so firmly over the course of many years. It would be unrealistic to expect that a problem which has defied solution for well over half a century could be resolved in the space of a few hours' discussion in Agra, however well intentioned the parties may be. I agree with those who have said that to begin with what is needed are confidence building measures such as the withdrawal of forces on both sides of the Line of Control, the opening up of communications between the two halves of the divided state of Kashmir and an agreement that only democratic means should be used to solve that problem.

The right reverend Prelate asked how the United Kingdom could assist with that process. We have just been told by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that outsiders should be careful not to be too intrusive. That is good advice. We wish both countries well from the point of view of our status as fellow members of the Commonwealth. We know from our previous experience that offers of mediation, whether by the Commonwealth Secretary General, the UN Secretary General or the Foreign Secretary of this country have not been welcomed because one of the parties at any rate believes that this is entirely a matter for the domestic consideration of the two powers and that it was decided some 30-odd years ago when they agreed at Simla to proceed by means of bilateral negotiations.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, referred to the elections in Azad Kashmir. I slightly take issue with him as I believe that it was unfortunate that the JKLF, which advocates the independence of Jammu and Kashmir, was prevented from contesting those elections. I hope that everyone agrees--this has already been said in the course of the debate--that the final solution of the problem of Kashmir has to be one which is acceptable to the people of the whole state. Since a referendum has been ruled out, the only remaining method people would have of making their views known would be elections throughout every part of the territory. If candidates were able to argue among themselves for different constitutional outcomes, that would enable the elected representatives to enter the debate with the democratic legitimacy that only free elections can confer.

That brings me to the position in Pakistan itself. Much has been said about the coup which brought General Musharraf to power. I agree that it was a regrettable necessity because the political system at the time was rotten to the core. As has been said, almost everyone in Pakistan welcomed the advent of General Musharraf at that time. The state had been plundered by unscrupulous politicians of both the People's Party and the Muslim League and the Musharraf government have clawed back millions through the National Accountability Bureau even though corruption is still widespread. It had gnawed so deeply into the fabric of national life that it may take decades to bring it under control.

The political parties in Pakistan were not democratic. They were run by feudal elites and from top to bottom they were controlled by a handful of leaders, not the voters. The leaders decided who were to be the candidates at every level, not the rank and file members of the parties. Now President Musharraf is reforming the system starting from the bottom upwards. He has promised that he will stick to the timetable laid down by the Supreme Court of holding national and provincial elections during the course of the next year.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said that at the same time Pakistan is trying to cope with a vast flood of Afghan refugees. The noble Earl put the number at 1.2 million. If one adds those who have arrived irregularly, have not been counted and are living in the cities, the true figure is nearer 2 million. The international community should do far more to help deal with the crisis. If we do not, many of those refugees will come to Europe and a large proportion of them to Britain. Afghanistan already tops the list of countries from which people seek asylum in the UK, with 900 arriving in May alone.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of what Mr Straw said to the IPPR in his former incarnation as Home Secretary in a speech on an effective protection regime for the 21st century. He said:

"We must help the countries concerned to make conditions in the regions of origin better".

He is now in a position to do something practical about it. We should be mobilising the international community to succour the Afghan people affected by war and drought. We could offer President Musharraf a deal: that he stops providing through the ISI military advisers, logistical support, transhipment of weapons, ammunition and fuel to the Taliban and the recruitment of Pakistani nationals to fight in the Taliban's war, and we will provide massive help to get the refugees back into Afghanistan and to provide them with the means of sustaining themselves when they arrive there. As the noble Earl said, since September 170,000 people have left the country. He described the conditions in the camp of Jalozai: they have been described as deplorable and inhumane. I agree with him on that. Islamabad has called on the UNHCR to facilitate the return of those people to Afghanistan. Many are prepared to go back if they are given the necessary help. A handful of families have returned already with the assistance of the UNHCR, which gave them the princely sum of 117 dollars per family to resettle themselves in their homeland.

I was very glad to see that General Musharraf is reported to be about to clamp down on some of the sectarian and fanatical groups. Violence between those groups, including the mass murder of worshippers in their mosques, has become an ugly and alarming phenomenon. The extremists who whip up hatred and fear in some of the mosques and religious schools despite legislation against incitement threaten the whole political fabric of Pakistan. The extremists, some of whom are supported by money from abroad, are the biggest threat to the stability and integrity of the state. The failure to confront and contain them has been the greatest failure of leadership since independence.

In conclusion, I should like to echo what has been said about the CHOGM in Brisbane. Let us not push Pakistan further back into difficulties. She is already confronting enormous problems with the flood of refugees, corruption and the question of Kashmir. Let us instead invoke the Commonwealth to assist Pakistan, bring her back into the family of nations and restore her to democracy and prosperity. I believe that that is our duty from Brisbane. I hope that the Government will give us an undertaking accordingly.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 9:06 pm, 16th July 2001

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate the situation in Pakistan and thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for asking the Question.

It has been a particularly interesting and wide-ranging debate on the social and political situation in Pakistan. As the Foreign Secretary indicated on 20th June, deep concern was felt by us all as General Musharraf assumed the presidency of Pakistan and dissolved the national and provincial assemblies. We should not forget that this is a country which has suffered from several difficult elections and many previous undemocratic governments.

Pakistan is a key player in a strategic area with many serious ethnic, religious and military tensions. Its increasing fundamentalism is of great concern. I believe that we should give consideration to the security and stability of the region in any response we make to yet another period of martial law, the third in Pakistan's history.

As have other noble Lords, we welcome the high level talks between Pakistan and India this weekend with a sense of relief and hope. We on these Benches urge the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, to encourage the Foreign Secretary to do all he can to assist this process. Any easing of national tensions will aid stability within Pakistan. General Musharraf can be commended for such a move. However, as many noble Lords have pointed out today, that should not lead us to ease the pressure on him to keep his commitment and to honour the ruling of the supreme court to ensure free and fair all-party elections by the autumn of next year.

Despite what we may think about the general, printing presses are not being destroyed, farms are not being illegally occupied and fuel is not rationed, so how are we to square our attitude to Pakistan with our attitude to Zimbabwe? We condemn the general, yet we appease President Mugabe. Pakistan is succeeding while Zimbabwe is in chronic decline. Surely if the general agrees to hold elections we must support Pakistan. While we remain ineffective towards Zimbabwe, do we not appear hypocritical when we take action against Pakistan?

As we heard from the right reverend Prelate, Pakistan is enjoying a period of economic stability; so much so that in November last year the IMF announced a 596 million dollar credit for Pakistan--the first since May 1999. Despite that, Pakistan's economy still struggles under the weight of debt servicing and the high cost of defence. We urge the Minister to consider the proposals that we debated earlier today during the Committee stage of the International Development Bill to link any aid to good governance and anti-corruption regimes. Pakistan has for too long been bedevilled by corruption and lack of good governance. So many countries--possibly more than ever before--are being ruined by corruption, which has become endemic in their societies. Any help that we can give to try to eliminate corruption should be welcomed.

I hope that the Minister will join me by calling on General Musharraf to instigate new elections as soon as he feels that the country is stable enough to do so, so that they will be as fair as possible; to instil civil liberties; to ensure religious tolerance; to put an end to bonded labour; to look into the situation of political prisoners, who should be charged or released; and to allow peaceful demonstrations, which are the life blood of a free society.

We need to build on the links with Pakistan that we heard described in the elegant and thoughtful speech, full of wisdom, from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. We also need to build on the UK-Pakistan agreement on drug trafficking and to encourage the authorities to improve education standards, as the shocking illiteracy rate is one of Pakistan's major problems. It is due mainly to corruption in schools. I was told that there are approximately 3,000 ghost schools--schools that do not exist, but where the teachers still get paid.

Pakistan has a long and chequered history of toying with the democratic process. We should assist Pakistan further along the path, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, through advice, support and pressure from the international community.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Baroness made a comparison with Zimbabwe. Will she reconsider her use of the word "appease" to describe the Government's policy?

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative

My Lords, I am sorry, but we seem to be appeasing President Mugabe.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip) 9:12 pm, 16th July 2001

My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting and well informed debate. I am not surprised by that, because, in preparing for my response this evening, I read the debate that was held in this House on 19th January last year, when a number of the speakers were the same as today, so I was expecting some informed comment.

I join others in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester on selecting this subject for debate. Having only recently travelled down the corridor from the other place, I am not used to such debates being so wide-ranging, but I welcome the fact. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his skills of looking into the future that enabled him to select the subject today after a weekend when Pakistan and India have been in the national news bulletins. That does not happen every weekend. The right reverend Prelate's timing is impeccable.

As we might have expected, the contributions have focused on some key issues, notably Kashmir, the route to democracy that we all hope for, Afghanistan, human rights and economic development. I shall try to touch on those matters in the relatively short period of time that I have in which to respond to the debate.

Since its formation in 1947, Pakistan has faced formidable obstacles, including poverty, scarce resources, political instability, and domestic and external conflict. It has made progress on many of those issues, but much remains to be done.

We hope that in the 21st century Pakistan will maintain its efforts on those issues while acknowledging a new set of challenges: developing its education, reforming its economy to compete in a globalised world, building modern relationships with its neighbours and, above all, entering upon a quest for strong, sustainable and transparent democratic government.

We must acknowledge that successive governments, both military and civilian, have not always served the Pakistani people as well as we may have hoped. However, I strongly agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we must be careful about making judgments from one part of the planet to another on many of these issues.

I agree with a number of noble Lords that there were deep flaws in the approach of the previous elected government. I should emphasise that the British Government, with our European Union partners, were quick to express our concern over their handling of the economy and their human rights record. However, we feel that, however flawed that government, they should have been allowed to complete their natural term so that the Pakistani people could pass their own verdict at the ballot box. No less an authority than the former Speaker of the House of Commons has reminded us this evening of the fundamental importance of democracy and the ballot box.

The military intervention of October 1999 undermined Pakistan's constitution and set back the cause of democracy and civilian control of Pakistan's armed forces. To have turned a blind eye would have set a dangerous precedent world-wide. At the time, we made clear our views on the military coup and called for an early transition to democracy. But we also indicated that we would not turn our backs on Pakistan. We want to work with the present authorities to tackle the country's economic and social problems while, simultaneously, providing advice and assistance on the transition to elected government.

With regard to the economy, it is vital to stabilise, reform and diversify Pakistan's economy. The country has never been able to achieve consistently the levels of economic growth which are necessary to free it from dependence on external support and to lift its people out of poverty. We strongly support a programme of structural reform which can make more efficient use of Pakistan's resources, reward labour and enterprise, and reduce corruption. Pakistan is currently implementing ambitious and challenging reform programmes agreed with the IMF and the World Bank. It is meeting the underlying benchmarks successfully. That is expected to pave the way for a more ambitious three-year programme later in the year.

The strong economic management and the track record built up over recent months, despite the current drought, reflect strong leadership by the Minister of Finance. However, in order to achieve a sustained reduction in poverty, greater progress is needed in other areas--particularly in education and health. Sadly, Pakistan seems to be lagging behind the rest of south Asia with regard to literacy and female access to education. That point was made strongly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester.

Although the indicators for life expectancy, infant mortality and access to clean water are improving slowly, they are not improving as quickly as they are in the rest of south Asia. Unless Pakistan can limit its population growth, any economic growth will be quickly swallowed up. These are great challenges for the country.

The present Government of Pakistan are in the process of developing reasonable strategies to tackle those fundamental problems. The key, as always, will be implementation. Major progress will require greater commitment of human and financial resources by the government to the social sectors and an effective devolution process to ensure that public services are delivered more efficiently than has been the case thus far.

The Department for International Development is already engaged deeply in many of those areas. As noble Lords may know, in a meeting with the Pakistani Foreign Secretary on 13th June, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development discussed, among other issues, the UK's aid to Pakistan.

In order for Pakistan's people to enjoy security as well as prosperity, further attention must be paid to human rights. Where we have had concerns, we have been frank about them. Political detainees should be either released or charged with specific offences, and the ban on political gatherings should be lifted. Again, I agree very much with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester that the position of women remains of great concern, as does the application of the blasphemy law.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells spoke very movingly indeed about the enrichment that faiths derive from dialogue with one another. Whenever I attended a religious service--I speak as a former constituency Member of Parliament with a number of faiths in my constituency--the commonality and sharing of values came through to me all the time. The right reverend Prelate spoke movingly on that theme and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Violence and intimidation are never a solution; so we welcome General Musharraf's speech of 5th June to religious leaders in which he condemned intolerance.

Several noble Lords raised the question of Pakistan's relations with India. This weekend's dialogue was welcomed by several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, with whom I have shared quite a long period on our respective Front Benches today, although our proceedings are now close to a conclusion.

We are still assessing initial reports of this weekend's historic summit in India between Prime Minister Vajpayee and General Musharraf. We are encouraged by the courage and vision that both leaders demonstrated by resuming dialogue. We hope that the personal rapport that they have established will lead to a wide and constructive discussion of the issues that divide their countries, including that of Kashmir. As many noble Lords pointed out, including my noble friend Lord Ahmed and the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Hannay, if only Pakistan and India could redeploy some of the resources that they devote to military spending, that would be of enormous benefit to the people of India and Pakistan. The United Kingdom supports all efforts to resolve the Kashmir conflict. We believe that it is now for the leaders of India and Pakistan to take the initial meeting forward.

Several noble Lords, including in particular the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, discussed relations with Afghanistan. We hope that Pakistan will be able to work with us constructively to address this tragic conflict. As has been pointed out, Pakistan and its people suffer greatly from the fallout from that conflict--through drugs, criminality and the spread of extremism and sectarian violence. A comprehensive political solution in Afghanistan would bring great benefits to the region; it would certainly do so to Pakistan. We continue to urge such a settlement. We recently co-hosted a conference with the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Afghanistan to explore what more could be done to move the process forward.

Finally, Pakistan needs stable and effective government, which reflects the wishes of its people. We have made it clear that what these days is called a "road map" for the transition to democracy needs to be established. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary discussed this with Pakistan's Foreign Secretary on 12th June, and on 25th June the noble and gallent Lord, Lord Guthrie, raised the issue directly with General Musharraf on behalf of the Government. We have welcomed the military government's acceptance of the Supreme Court's verdict that national and provincial elections must be held by the autumn of next year.

However, we were worried by General Musharraf's sudden assumption of the presidency on 20th June. That appeared to further undermine the constitution and it cast doubts over the credibility of elections next year. We have urged the general to provide early constitutional clarity about future relations between the elected assemblies, the presidency and the National Security Council and details of the way in which he intends to put his assumption of the presidency to the democratic test.

Again, I emphasise that we are ready to help to restore constitutional rule through assistance with fair, free, transparent and well-conducted elections. We all hope that ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, to which many speakers have referred, we shall see clear progress in that direction.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree that under Pakistan's constitution, the president is elected by the members of the national and provincial assemblies? The logic therefore is that, once those elected bodies are in place, they should ratify the appointment of President Musharraf as president.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is absolutely right. Not just in Pakistan but in all countries, democracy is best built from the bottom up. The elections to which he refers are fundamental to the route map to which I referred.

As those noble Lords on both sides of the House who know the country far better than I have made clear, Pakistan is a country with great potential and it has strong links with the United Kingdom. A prosperous, secure and well-governed Pakistan is in both Britain's and Pakistan's interests.

We have made it clear that we cannot condone the manner in which the present government came to power and are concerned at any moves which might prolong undemocratic rule. But where we are convinced that the government are working sincerely to create economic growth, tackle poverty, improve relations with Pakistan's neighbours and ensure an early transition to sustainable democracy, they will have our full support.

Her Majesty's Government will continue to do all that we can to help to build a prosperous, secure and peaceful future for Pakistan and its people.

House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes past nine o'clock.