HC Deb 05 November 2002 vol 392 cc137-9
8. Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)

What assessment he has made of the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir. [77168]

10. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)

What assessment he has made of the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir. [77170]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

The elections in Jammu and Kashmir were marred by high levels of violence and intimidation, which we unreservedly condemn. Despite that, the Indian election commission has made strenuous efforts to deliver free and fair elections. Many Kashmiris chose to participate. We hope that the election will be a step in a broader process that will bring peace to the region.

Ms Dari Taylor

I am reassured by what my hon. Friend has said, but does he accept that the situation in Kashmir remains dangerous and very concerning? Eight hundred people have died since the election was called and cross-border violence persists. I would appreciate hearing my hon. Friend's views on how a dialogue between Pakistan and India can take place and what qualities that dialogue may have. What does he believe is central to achieving a solution?

Mr. O'Brien

The tension between Pakistan and India has reduced in recent weeks. I was in Delhi two weeks ago on the day that India announced its intention to redeploy forces from the Pakistan border. That is certainly to be welcomed. Pakistan responded promptly the next day by announcing a return to barracks of some of its forces. There has been a broad welcome for that de-escalation by both sides. Both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee have shown that they do not want war and that they want a peaceful way forward. We now need to ensure that there is an end to terrorism and a beginning of a process of greater contact between the two countries. In due course, I hope that it will be possible to hold discussions that will lead to a peaceful settlement of the disputes, including those in relation to Kashmir.

Mr. Love

I hear what the Minister has said, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) pointed out, 800 people have died, many because of cross-border terrorism. Pakistan appears either unwilling or unable to deal with that robustly. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that Pakistan lives up to the promises and pledges that it has made on this issue?

Mr. O'Brien

I share the concern about cross-border infiltration. We have raised the matter regularly with the Pakistani Government, including during the visit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to Islamabad on 19 and 20 July, and when he met the Pakistani Foreign Minister on 16 September in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. The Pakistani Government have assured us that President Musharraf's pledge that there will be no further movement across the line of control still stands, and that the Pakistani army is doing all it can to stop infiltration. We are ensuring that the Pakistani Government are aware of our continued concern and we are working with them in order to try to ensure that those promises are indeed kept.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there would have been more confidence in the election process if international observer teams had had full and unfettered access throughout?

Mr. O'Brien

There was some examination of the process involved in the election in Jammu and Kashmir. We certainly felt that the personal intervention of Prime Minister Vajpayee, which ensured that the Indian election commission tried to run free and fair elections, produced a level of fairness despite the fact that large numbers of people were killed. There was also, to some extent, a view in certain parts of Jammu and Kashmir that people did not want to participate. None the less, we hope that the election and other steps taken in the south Asian region can be part of a process that will begin to heal some of the pain and the disputes that have bedevilled the region for so long.

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