Pakistan

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 19th October 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 19th October 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the Government of Pakistan about the restoration of democracy in that country, in the light of recent announcements on the military role of the president.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have both spoken recently to the Pakistani Foreign Minister on the issue of democracy in Pakistan and President Musharraf's dual role as President and Chief of Army Staff.

We welcome the progress made so far in Pakistan's transition to democracy. We have emphasised our preference that any decision made by President Musharraf on retaining his position as both President and as Chief of Army Staff should be made in accordance with the Pakistani constitution and with parliamentary support.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister associate herself with the remarks of the Secretary of State for Defence when he was in Pakistan two weeks ago, when he described this regressive move, in clear breach of a pledge to the Commonwealth, as "understandable"? Would the Minister similarly understand that were it to happen in Zimbabwe?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am afraid that in foreign affairs the noble Baroness has to understand that one size simply does not fit all. The fact is that we are dealing with very different positions. Ideally, in any state, we would prefer to separate the roles of the head of state and the chief of staff, but there are very considerable pressures on Pakistan at the moment—very considerable pressures on President Musharraf. The President's stance, for example, in dealing with the issues around weapons of mass destruction, in dealing in the way he has with issues of terrorism and in making the rapprochement he has with the state of India are all matters which are entirely different from those affecting Zimbabwe and the noble Baroness ought to take that into account.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, International Affairs, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, we all wish to see democracy in the broader sense of that concept—and it is a very broad concept indeed—spread as far as possible over the globe, particularly throughout the Commonwealth. We can all agree with that. However, does the Minister keep in mind—I am sure that she does—that Pakistan is suffering grievously from terror and from the most hideous atrocities and killings not only of the Christian community but of many other innocent people? Therefore, will she agree with me that when we speak of Pakistan we should spare a thought for its brave people and send them our good wishes in their difficulties; and that while we want to see political development there, we also want to see peace and security in that country as it evolves?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Yes, my Lords, I would like to associate myself very strongly with what the noble Lord has said. Peace and security are prerequisites for democracy. We have just been talking about the importance of stability in Iraq in relation to the elections there. Of course, President Musharraf was the subject of the attention of would-be assassins in December last year and mercifully escaped. We welcome all the steps that have been taken to clamp down on terrorist and extreme groups in Pakistan. The banning of such groups in November 2003 was a very positive step in undermining and destabilising their influence. I think that President Musharraf and the people of Pakistan are to be congratulated on the stance that they have taken against terrorism.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Baroness has spoken about the Pakistan Government's success in combating terrorism. She will know better than any of us that they have also recently had military success on the Afghan border. But what about the propaganda war? Does she have any evidence that the Pakistan Government are taking seriously the websites emanating from refugee camps in Peshawar and elsewhere which are still extolling the virtues of the Taliban and, indeed, the virtues of that sector of their own society?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am very concerned about the way in which a number of websites are operating at the moment. I am very concerned that a number of groups seem to be able to operate with virtual impunity because of the difficulty of policing those websites; and it looks as though real questions of incitement arise from a number of different websites. I have enormous sympathy with what the noble Earl is saying on this matter, and I know that it is a question of great concern to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that, while stability is what all well-wishers for Pakistan want to see, President Musharraf's declared aims in the military coup were to restore a political culture that was representative and to combat terrorism. He has failed in both in the sense that Sipah-e-Sihaba and many other terrorist groups have been banned but no effective action is being taken to stop them operating. The noble Earl's question about websites is an illustration of that. Therefore, the stated aims of President Musharraf are not being carried out, and yet we have no political space in which opposition parties can operate.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am not sure what the question was because the noble Baroness seemed to be making a statement. My point about websites is that it is a problem that affects a number of different countries. I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that her view is very different from that of the Commonwealth Secretariat, where the progress that Pakistan has made on questions of democracy has enabled it to rejoin the councils of the Commonwealth, and we are very pleased. The noble Baroness may shake her head, but I am afraid that the combined wisdom of the Commonwealth is probably more likely to endear itself to your Lordships than a personal opinion on this matter.