Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:21 pm on 16th July 2001.

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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!