HC Deb 20 June 2000 vol 352 cc146-7
7. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

If he will make a statement on Britain's relations with Pakistan. [125210]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain)

Britain has close and long-standing ties with Pakistan and we continue to urge General Musharraf to produce a complete timetable for the transition to democracy.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that members of the settled Pakistani communities in Britain, who had high hopes of a Labour Government, are concerned about the issue that was raised on the previous question, and feel that the legitimate concerns of Pakistan are being ignored as a result of our pressure that Pakistan, rightly, should move swiftly towards democracy? Does my hon. Friend agree that if they feel like that, and Pakistan feels isolated, that represents a real threat to peace in south Asia?

Mr. Hain

I agree with my hon. Friend that a Pakistan that feels isolated, embattled and beleaguered could find itself reacting accordingly, and that would be dangerous. I welcome the opportunity to place on the record the fact that we value our strong and historic friendship with the people of Pakistan. That friendship continues, although we rightly condemned the coup last year—there is no such thing as a good coup. Nevertheless, we want to see Pakistan develop, succeed and returned to democratic rule, and we will work with the Pakistani people and their representatives to achieve that, as we are now doing.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

When General Musharraf considers the franchise, would it not be appropriate for him to move towards a single electoral list for the restoration of democracy in his country? In that case, minorities such as Christians, Hindus, Ahmedis and Parsees may get a fair deal. Will Her Majesty's Government press for an early lifting of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which cause great offence to minorities and are often an incitement to violence against them?

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend—[Interruption]—I mean, the hon. Gentleman; this consensus has gone too far. The hon. Gentleman raises important points, with which I agree, about minorities in Pakistan. We shall press for the lifting of the blasphemy laws—indeed, we already have—and we shall consider the proposals for a new electoral registration system. On that and other matters, we have offered the Pakistani regime co-operation to help eradicate corruption from the judiciary, and to modernise its system of government and the civil service, which has also been deeply corrupt and inefficient. Offers of assistance have been made, and we hope that they will be taken up. We genuinely want Pakistan and its people to succeed.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

The future of Kashmir is a burning issue for many Pakistanis in my constituency, and the vast majority believe that the Kashmiris should decide their own fate. Should we not use the United Nations to promote a plebiscite before we discuss whether there should be new UN representation?

Mr. Hain

As I have said, the issue of an enlarged Security Council is quite different from matters that may or may not be occurring in Pakistan or India, even if those matters might influence the Asian group's decision about its representative. That is a matter for the Asian group, not Britain, to decide.

The crisis in Kashmir continues, and we remain actively engaged in seeking to resolve it. We want India and Pakistan to resume the Lahore process, which resulted from the courageous decision of the Indian Prime Minister to travel to Lahore. The discussions provided a breakthrough, and it is unfortunate that the subsequent Kargil incident in Kashmir—the author of which was General Musharraf—has, along with last year's coup, set the process back. We continue to urge both Delhi and Islamabad to get together to resolve the matter. It cannot continue as a festering sore, threatening stability in the region and the human rights of those in the area concerned.

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