HC Deb 27 November 1996 vol 286 cc322-3
6 Mr. Heppell

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on British relations with Pakistan. [4591]

Mr. Rifkind

We have good relations with Pakistan. We have been closely monitoring the situation since the President's dismissal of Ms Bhutto's Government. We call on all parties to act responsibly and within the constitution in preparation for the elections announced for 3 February.

Mr. Heppell

I see from my right hon. and learned Friend's reply that he shares the concerns of hon. Members on both sides of the House that at a democratically elected Government have effectively been dismissed by the President. I hope that he can assure us that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the democratic elections go ahead in February to try to bring some stability back to Pakistan and the region.

Mr. Rifkind

Although the dismissal of a Government must be a matter of great regret, it is encouraging that on this occasion the action was taken by the President under the constitution and did not involve the intervention of the armed forces, as has happened on previous occasions in Pakistan. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the overwhelming priority now is to ensure that genuinely free and fair elections take place, as promised, on 3 February.

Mr. Fatchett

The House will be encouraged by the Foreign Secretary's statement. Will he express to the President of Pakistan the concern of all Members of the House that free and fair elections should take place in early February? Will he make the point that any return to military rule in Pakistan will damage that country's status and standing? Will he also convey to the President that it is important for Pakistan's future and status that it should have a free and democratic Government with a true respect for human rights so that it can play its full and proper part in the politics of the region?

Mr. Rifkind

I saw President Leghari when I was in Islamabad a few weeks ago. I am satisfied that his objective and intention is, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, to try to ensure a return to an elected Government through free elections in February. One hopes that all in Pakistan will enable that to come about. At this time I have no reason to believe that it will not.