India — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:34 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords (Communities), Department for Communities and Local Government 1:34 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on securing this debate. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Paul, on becoming a Deputy Speaker in your Lordships' House. I have no doubt that, had he not been sitting on the Woolsack, he would have been on his feet in this debate.

I suspect that in my case the title of this debate is a bit of a misnomer, as I shall be discussing matters in which India's neighbours bear responsibility—the events that took place between 26 and 29 November, in which more than 173 people died and twice as many were injured. We are, therefore, talking about developments in the Indian subcontinent, which includes India's neighbour, Pakistan.

This was a graphic portrayal of violence, the like of which bears some comparison with the events at the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11 and the bombing of the Tube and buses in London on 7 July. The most striking and ugly feature of the barbaric actions of the terrorists was witnessed live throughout the world on television screens. This memory will not fade away; nor should it be allowed to be yesterday's news. When the TV cameras switch their attention elsewhere, the innocent victims are picking up the pieces to rebuild their lives. There are the injured and maimed individuals, who will take a long time to recover. There are those who went to work and never returned and whose memories will haunt their families for a very long time to come. We can express our sense of outrage and understand the anger that Indian nationals have felt.

The facts of the incident are not in dispute. Gunmen launched a series of attacks across Mumbai, the financial capital of India. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out, these included the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi hotels, the main railway station, a hospital, restaurants and the Jewish outreach centre. It is reported that at least 26 foreign nationals, including UK, US, Australian, German, French, Canadian, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Singaporean citizens, died.

There is no doubt that foreign nationals were the targets, as the hotels and restaurants that bore the brunt of the attacks are normally frequented by foreign tourists. So the terrorists' intentions were not simply to destabilise the financial capital of India; they were more sinister than that. They were aimed at many of our democratic institutions in the free world. There is no doubt that the terrorists were well briefed and well rehearsed. How else could they have targeted the Jewish outreach centre? However, little publicity has been given to the fact that among those who died were at least 70 persons of Muslim faith.

There are more Muslims in India than in neighbouring Pakistan—a point stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. In fact, during the communal violence in Gujarat—a point raised by a number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and I were the first people of Indian origin in Parliament in this country to contact the Chief Minister in Gujarat and the Prime Minister, making it absolutely clear that these were Indian nationals and that any dispute whatever in a democratic country must be resolved through the process of law and not by communal violence. There is no dispute that we should be able to remind the world's largest democracy again and again that violence perpetrated by communities is unacceptable.

Perhaps I may talk about the Muslim community. Muslims are Indian nationals who reflect the diversity and secularism that the world's largest democracy provides. To its credit, the Muslim community in India is predominately law-abiding and there is no evidence that it is involved in these terrorist activities. It is also to India's credit that there has been no backlash against the community in this current situation.

In contrast, since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has alternated between civilian and military rule. The prospect of democracy looks fragile, and peace and stability are often threatened by internal dissent and radicalism, which the terrorists have used to destabilise Pakistan. The role of the ISI and Pakistan's future democracy seem incompatible. You can have a democracy with an independent judiciary and the rule of law but any interference by the military in the body politic of Pakistan is bound to discredit this process, as it has done in the past. It will inhibit pluralism, the elimination of poverty, the building of prosperity and, more important, Pakistan's relationship with its neighbours—in this case India.

We cannot compensate for the lives that have been lost but, after the bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, the attacks on the Indian Parliament, the explosions in Bangalore and Jaipur, and the atrocities at the Akshardham temple in Gujarat, there is irrefutable evidence that the Pakistan-administered-Kashmir-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba has been responsible for these attacks. The intercept evidence provided by the United States and the intelligence obtained by the security service have confirmed this and Condoleezza Rice has been forthright in bringing that to the attention of the Pakistan Government.

India has been pressing Pakistan to take action against this group and has requested that the United Nations proscribe the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group, a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, for being associated with terrorism. Add to this the voice of our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. He is to be congratulated on the way in which he was able to articulate what he knew was happening in India at that time. He named the Lashkar-e-Taiba militants as responsible for the attacks. The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, was right when he said:

"First we have to galvanise the international community into dealing sternly and effectively with the epicentre of terrorism, which is located in Pakistan".

International evidence points to the fact that the war on terror has not reduced terror. Over 22,000 people have been killed worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the security service estimates that 1,600 individuals are a direct threat to our country. I commend the words of our Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He said:

"The time has come not for more words but for more action. We will offer our support to the democratically elected Government of Pakistan, but that Government must act rapidly and decisively against the terror networks based on their soil".—[Hansard, Commons, 15/12/08; col. 816.]

Pakistan's own future depends on action against those within its borders who are bent on the destruction of its elected Government and its relations with its neighbours. It has already experienced terrorism on its own soil; the regrettable death of Benazir Bhutto is a case in point.

Now we do not simply need brave words; we need practical action. India's position in world politics has been recognised, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. The relations between India and the USA have never been stronger. The USA has provided intelligence that has helped to nail down the terrorist bases in Pakistan, but the fact remains that both the US and British Governments are so deeply entrenched in their military role in Afghanistan—and therefore need co-operation from the Pakistan Government towards this end—that they have failed to give practical support to eliminate terrorism on the borders of the subcontinent. I can well understand their reluctance, because they depend heavily on Pakistan's co-operation for their military action in Afghanistan, but this is a very blinkered strategy. Those terrorists who have turned against India and other democratic institutions in the world would not hesitate to turn on their own Government, as past events in Pakistan have confirmed. I trust that the Minister will say something on that point.

However, if past experience is anything to go by, South Africa immediately springs to mind. Nelson Mandela was branded a terrorist and both the British and US Governments failed to condemn the apartheid regime. The message is clear. We cannot condemn terrorism and yet at the same time condone activities that give shelter to terrorists. Condemnation alone is not enough. There must be practical demonstration on the ground. We cannot defeat terrorism unless the international community squarely confronts terrorist activities. There cannot be any compromise in the global fight against those who massacre innocent people, whether in Britain, the US, India or any other part of the world. We must, of course, give credit to the United Nations. It has put sanctions on four individuals of Lashkar-e-Taiba. That is a small step in dismantling the infrastructure that feeds terrorist activities.

Equally, Pakistan has an important role to perform. The use of its territory for launching such heinous attacks requires strong action on its part. Of course, there is evidence of steps that have been taken by Pakistan, but much will depend on whether such steps lead to their logical conclusion. The attacks in Mumbai failed to sow the seeds of communal division in a country that prides itself on its secular policies. It is not enough to see al-Qaeda as sole agents for terrorism. There is evidence that young radicalised people, often the product of madrassahs, are now actively involved. Their activities do not recognise terrestrial boundaries, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. There is ample evidence of funding from international sources. More needs to be done to bring rogue states to account for their action in supporting the radicalisation of young people, which, in turn, influences jihadis on the ground.

Terrorism is not restricted to India and Pakistan. Also, it is a red herring to suggest that this is an issue related to Jammu and Kashmir. Terrorists have no mandate and no democracy would negotiate a political solution under the threat of terrorist activities. To the credit of both, India and Pakistan have opened a political dialogue. The evidence is there for all to see: more tourism and prosperity in Kashmir; more movement of people across the border; and free and fair elections. This has to go much further, however; there has to be a political solution untainted by terrorist activities. The example of the China-India dispute is a case in point. Despite disagreement over the border issue, both countries have regularised their relations on other outstanding matters. Perhaps that could be a way forward with regard to Kashmir.

The international community, for its part, should ensure that there is a comprehensive convention to deal with cross-border terrorism. This is the biggest menace that we all face. One of the most unexplained dimensions of this terrorist attack was that for the first time foreigners were targeted. They played no part in any dispute between India and Pakistan.

We have a lot to learn from such incidents. First, despite the massacre of hundreds of innocent victims, the terrorists have not been able to derail India's economy. Secondly, they have succeeded in worsening relations between India and Pakistan, particularly when there was strong evidence of reconciliation and the development of economic unity between the two countries. Thirdly, as we have learnt in the West, there is no such thing as total security. Terrorism will flourish if we fail to arrest it. A way forward is to ensure that international legal processes are available to extradite those who commit such crimes. Fourthly, the United Nations must urgently consider sanctions against those countries that provide shelter and financial support to the terrorists.

To defeat terrorism, we must all look beyond our own interests. An attack on a democratic institution is an indirect attack on all the democratic and peace-loving institutions of the world—an enlightened world. I am delighted that the cricket tour is taking place, but I am sad that my team lost. I will let your Lordships into a secret. I met the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and spoke to him about cricket. His cricket test is no longer valid. I support England and he now supports India. We shall have to revise that definition.