It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
It would be completely wrong to start this debate without reference to the recent devastating floods in Kashmir. Much of the area either side of the line of control has been devastated. The press reports that are coming in on an hourly basis paint a grim picture. We hear of substantial loss of life on both sides of the line of control. The press reports I have received recently discuss the loss of life and the 1 million people who are deprived of basic services, but then refer quite hopefully to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan offering at the weekend to help each other to deal with the disaster, which I am pleased to say temporarily diverted attention away from fighting along the border. Alas, that was not to be for long.
The latest we heard on Wednesday was that violence had again flared up on the line of control, with two dozen soldiers fighting militants even as flood rescue operations were under way elsewhere. Three militants were shot dead by Indian troops in Kashmir after a gun battle. Similarly, on the other side, we heard comments from a prominent Islamist in Pakistan who accused India of water terrorism. Can anyone believe that? He accused India of causing flooding across the border by discharging dam water downstream. In such a short space of time, we have seen the seriousness of the issue, as well as the despair that many, many people here and across the world must feel when they consider the conflict in Kashmir.
I want to give a little more detail. The latest information from the European Commission’s humanitarian office states that, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the flooding has caused 231 deaths—undoubtedly, there will have been more by now—injured 401 people and affected 580,000 people in 1,460 villages, with 5,400 houses partly damaged and 2,400 destroyed. In India, more than 200 people have been killed and 50,000 have been rescued with help from the Indian army. As I mentioned, more than 1 million people have been affected because the flooding has cut off basic services. In addition to the Minister’s response to today’s general debate on the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan, will he comment on the Government response to the humanitarian crisis currently faced on both sides of the line of control?
I thank the hon. Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) for supporting my application for this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. My hon. Friend John Hemming could not support my application because he is a member of that Committee, but I know that he supports the debate. I also thank the Jammu Kashmir Self Determination Movement (Europe) for supporting the debate, for supporting me and for galvanising support throughout the country, by helping to get many thousands of signatures on the petition that demanded a parliamentary debate.
I have spoken to a lot of groups and organisations— I will refer to some of them later in my speech—but I found the contribution from the Kashmir Development Foundation to be of real help and value, particularly in terms of the importance of the Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri diasporas, both in this country and internationally, and the positive impact that they could have on the situation in Kashmir.