HC Deb 21 March 1973 vol 853 cc412-4
6. Mr. Edward Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with representatives of India and Pakistan.

Lord Balniel

Her Majesty's Government are in frequent and regular contact with the Governments of both India and Pakistan on matters of mutual interest and we have, through our representatives in Delhi and Islamabad, been in touch recently with senior members of both Governments.

Mr. Taylor

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the detention of the prisoners-of-war for 16 months could, if it continues for much longer, poison relations between these two friendly countries for generations to come? Since 16 months have elapsed with no apparent move, will he at least take a public initiative, along with other great nations, to try to bring these two countries together?

Lord Balniel

I can only repeat what I have said before, that we regard as one of the most important features of a settlement the return of the prisoners-of-war to their countries of origin. In so far as we can assist in this and in other matters relating to a settlement, we are very willing to do so, if asked by the countries concerned.

Mr. David Stoddart

Is the Minister aware that this problem is causing a great deal of worry and heart-searching to communities within this country? Hon. Members receive representations to this effect from time to time. Is it not a fact that this issue of prisoners-of-war depends to a large degree on the recognition by Pakistan of Bangladesh? Will he use his best endeavours to get talks going along these lines?

Lord Balniel

The concern is felt not only in this country but throughout the world. The hon. Member and the House will know that Dr. Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has just visited India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. He has informed us that he had useful talks in all three capitals and was impressed by the serious intent of all the parties to reach a settlement, although he was well aware that this could not be achieved overnight. We are in close touch with Dr. Waldheim and we are ready to help him and the countries concerned if it is felt that we have a useful rôle to play.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I remind my hon. Friend that when he speaks of the "countries of origin", he is being incorrect, as the only prisoners-of-war remaining incarcerated are the Pakistanis captured on the eastern front, who capitulated on 16th December 1971 to Lt-General Jangjit Singh Aurora, and that since the instrument of surrender contains no Bangladesh signatures this must indicate that Mr. Hornsby is right to say in The Times today that the joint command is a fiction and that the pre-consent of Bangladesh should not be called for before repatriation of the prisoners-of-war?

Lord Balniel

I do not think that I am incorrect. Many factors are involved in this dispute, not just the prisoners-of-war. There are the civilians in two of the countries concerned, whose problems we must bear in mind.

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