Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:27 pm on 16th July 2001.

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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.