HC Deb 01 March 1995 vol 255 cc1039-40
15. Mr. Couchman

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on British relations with Pakistan.

Mr. Baldry

We have good relations with Pakistan. We look forward to deepening and extending our political, commercial and cultural contacts.

Mr. Couchman

Will my hon. Friend impress on the high commissioner for Pakistan when next they meet, the grave concern felt by hon. Members of all parties at the persecution of Christians in Pakistan? Will he tell the high commissioner that to contemplate putting to death a child on a trumped-up charge of blasphemy is the sign of an uncivilised country? Finally, will he contrast the treatment of Christians in Pakistan with the treatment in this country of Christians from Pakistan such as the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, who was recently welcomed to north Kent as our diocesan bishop of Rochester?

Mr. Baldry

The whole House shares my hon. Friend's concerns and will have welcomed the judgment by the High Court of Pakistan which overturned the verdict to which he referred. We have regularly urged the Government of Pakistan to protect minorities against discrimination and intimidation. The rights of minorities are legally protected under Pakistan's constitution but there is real concern about the significant increases in sectarian violence and extremism in the past year, not only against non-Muslims, such as Christian groups, but between different Islamic sects, as we have witnessed recently. These are matters of concern that we continue to raise, although it is fair to observe that the Prime Minister of Pakistan has publicly reaffirmed Pakistan's commitment to improve the situation.

Mr. Watson

When the Minister next meets the high commissioner in Pakistan, will he raise the question of Kashmir, not only the part occupied by India, Jammu Kashmir, but Azad Kashmir? Will he remind the. high commissioner of the various United Nations resolutions, which call for a referendum to allow the people of Kashmir to have a say in their future? Will he insist that that referendum includes a third option for an independent Kashmir?

Mr. Baldry

Our position on Kashmir is well known and well established. We believe that the best way forward in Kashmir should involve simultaneous progress on discussions between India and Pakistan, as provided for under the Simla agreement of 1972. There must be improvement in human rights in Kashmir, a genuine political process and a clear cessation of external support for violence in Kashmir.

Mr. Waller

While stressing the need to stand up against the persecution of minorities in Pakistan, will my hon. Friend emphasise his support for the stance of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in resisting those among the Islamic extreme minorities, who have persecuted Christians very much in contrast with the essential message of Islam, which is perhaps more conciliatory in reality towards other religions than any other faith?

Mr. Baldry

It is right to remind ourselves that any persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan is the work of individuals; it is not the work of the Government. We continue to provide a substantial aid programme in support of Pakistan because poverty is a contributory factor in the rise of sectarianism and religious extremism. We believe that if we can help Pakistan continue to promote literacy and its economy, those factors will help combat the problems of sectarianism and intolerance in the longer term. Certainly this is not the time to turn our backs on Pakistan.