HL Deb 20 April 1999 vol 599 cc1085-102

7.20 p.m.

Lord Ahmedrose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will promote fresh international initiatives to alleviate the current state of tension between India and Pakistan.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords who will contribute to this debate at a time when a nuclear arms race has erupted in South Asia.

Your Lordships will be aware that on 11th April India tested its long range ballistic missile Agni II, followed by Pakistan with the Gauri II, and Iran, too, announced the successful testing of its surface-to-air missile Sayad I. This last round of missile testing has proved that these countries now possess weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads and weapons of mass destruction.

Since the independence of India and Pakistan both countries have been at war at least three times. At times of peace there continue to be skirmishes on the border and line of control. Tensions have steadily risen since the election of the BJP Government, rising to peak in May 1998 when the Indian Government, as a result of their actions on 11th and 13th May, started a cycle of nuclear testing.

Many of us were jubilant to see Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif initiate the recent talks with India which led to the Lahore Declaration and the bus service between Lahore and Delhi. Although the summit did not resolve major issues of conflict between the two countries, it was a confidence building measure that set a framework for future relations and a process to resolve the longstanding dispute between the two countries.

It is well known that the single most contentious issue between India and Pakistan is that of Kashmir and the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. Let me begin by addressing the concern that this is a bilateral issue and thus should not be debated in your Lordships' House. I say that this is an international issue. The reason I say that is, first, that the views of the international community, as expressed in the United Nations resolutions of 1948 and 1949, giving the people of Kashmir the right of self-determination through a free, fair and impartial plebiscite remain unimplemented and on statute.

Secondly, it is well documented in the reports of Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and Asia Watch that there are widespread abuses of human rights in Indian-held Kashmir. Surely abuses of human rights are an international matter.

Thirdly, dozens of promises made by the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, have never been delivered. I quote: We have given our pledge to the people of Kashmir, and subsequently to the United Nations, we stood by it and we stand by it today. Let the people of Kashmir decide".

That statement was made to the Indian Parliament on 12th February 1951. In another statement to the Indian Parliament on 26th June 1952, he said: If, after a proper plebiscite the people of Kashmiri said 'we do not want to be with India', we are committed to accept that. We will accept it though it might pain us. We will not send any army against them. We will accept that, however hurt we might feel about it, we will change the constitution if necessary".

There are over 600,000 Indian soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir, almost a ratio of 3 to 1 of the population. It is the densest and largest military occupied territory on earth. If Kashmir was an integral part of India, then why do the Indian Government need a huge number of army and special forces? India is not at war with any of its neighbours. Why do the Indian Army special units need nine interrogation units in Sirinagar alone? Why do the Indian Government not allow the International Red Cross, Amnesty International and others to investigate the abuses of human rights. Anyone caught investigating or reporting the true events in the valley becomes a victim of torture and abuse.

Many journalists have been victims of torture, humiliation and death during their interrogation for reporting the actual events in Sirinagar. Zafar Meraj, a journalist, has been paralysed due to the torture by the security forces. Basharat Abbasi was beaten and tortured to death. To this date his executioners have not been tried for the crime they committed against humanity: and there are hundreds of others who have disappeared from the face of this earth.

Amnesty International published a 71-page report last month of disappearances of Kashmiri civilians and abuses of human rights by the security forces. The situation is very serious and is not reported in the mainstream media here. Even many British parliamentarians, including myself, have not been given a visa to visit Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Since 1989 over 65,000 people have been killed in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Thousands of women have been raped, including children. Schools, hospitals and shops have been destroyed. One can successfully argue that the International War Tribunal should investigate the atrocities committed against the innocent people of Kashmir.

I have recently visited Azad Kashmir and Pakistan and visited refugee camps and displaced persons' camps. I understand that last year the United Nations line of control monitoring group recorded 4,551 violations of the line of control by the Indian Army. Over 60,500 rounds of ammunition, including rockets, mortar and artillery, were fired. One hundred and one civilians were reported killed in Azad Kashmir and 265 wounded and over 50,000 people living near the line of control were displaced due to firing. I am sure they were firing from the Pakistani side too, but this is not confirmed by the UN observers as the Indian Government do not allow them to observe the line of control.

It is 50 years since the United Nations resolutions and 27 years since the Simla agreement. India and Pakistan cannot resolve the Kashmiri issue bilaterally. I believe that only third party involvement could ever find a long-term settlement on the issue of Kashmir and bring peace and prosperity to the region. Britain has a special friendship with India and Pakistan and, I believe, a moral and legal responsibility to resolve the issue of Kashmir.

Historians like Professor Alistair Lamb claim that the accession of Kashmir with India is not legal and that is perhaps why no one has ever seen to date any documents of accession. Therefore it remains Britain's responsibility to play a major role in bringing the dispute to an end by working with the Indian, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership for an amicable solution which is acceptable to the Moslem, Hindu and Buddhist communities of Jammu and Kashmir.

In her reply, will the Minister confirm that the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir are valid? Will she encourage the Indian and Pakistani Governments to reduce the number of troops on the line of control and return all Indian soldiers from the streets of Jammu and Kashmir? Will my noble friend consider the following: to ask the Government of India, first, to allow the international human rights organisations to investigate the abuse of human rights and allow access to the prisons and interrogation centres; secondly, to allow access to journalists and free reporting; thirdly, to repeal and withdraw all laws imposed during the past decade and to release all detainees held under those laws; fourthly, to open a ceasefire line and to allow free access to families separated for decades; fifthly, to allow the Kashmiri leadership to visit both sides of the line of control so that there could be a meaningful dialogue; sixthly, to allow trade between the two parts through recognised routes; and, finally, to recognise that the Kashmiris are the main party and that any bilateral decision or suggestion will be subject to the final approval of the people of Kashmir?

7.30 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, on introducing the Question, particularly on his excellent timing immediately following the missile launches. I, too, look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about British and international action on Kashmir and the proposals which exist. Are the Government not only encouraging discussions between the Indian and Pakistani governments but also offering to facilitate such discussions in any way acceptable to those two independent and powerful nations?

I wish to mention several other issues which cause problems between the two countries. First, the electoral system in Pakistan keeps Hindus and Christians out of mainstream elections. Four Hindu MPs and four Christian MPs are elected by those respective minorities. Therefore, MPs in the mainstream need pay no attention to these minorities because they are not elected by them. Many locals in Pakistan call that a form of apartheid. Have the Government discussed the electoral system with the Pakistani government and, if so, what reaction are they receiving?

Secondly, I turn to the blasphemy law, which many people describe as ambiguous. No one has been executed under that law, but the fundamentalists take it into their own hands and persecute the minorities. In both countries there is persecution of the minorities by fundamentalists. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could inform the House what progress is being made on the two calls issued by the EU to the Government of Pakistan, as mentioned by her in the Official Report on 13th April at col. WA 118. She referred to calls made to the Governments of India and Pakistan both on the protection of religious minorities in their respective countries and the countries' blasphemy laws.

The tension which exists between the two countries causes grave difficulties for humanitarian cross-border travel, even for ex-patriates who are working in border areas between India and Pakistan. The tension makes it almost impossible for nationals of one country to cross into another. That tension needs resolving and it is most important that the Government take every step to do so. I hope that the noble Baroness will provide encouragement on that issue.

7.33 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, one would like to see the United Kingdom taking initiatives such as those suggested by the noble Lord to reduce tension between India and Pakistan and to procure a solution of the outstanding problems between them, in particular the major issue of the constitutional future of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

However, to be realistic, one must look to those solutions through the bilateral negotiations which are specified in the Simla agreement and reconfirmed in the Lahore Declaration. There have been offers of help and occasionally Pakistan has suggested third-party involvement. Recent candidates included SAARC and President Mandela. However, New Delhi has always rejected foreign intervention, mediation or even facilitation.

Therefore, if we are to take any initiatives, they ought not to be focused on the substantive issues, but on the creation of more favourable conditions for a productive dialogue between the two states, and in the case of Jammu and Kashmir on the promotion of democracy and human rights so that the people themselves can freely express their views on their own political future.

That means, first and foremost, an end to the violence in Jammu and the valley. The noble Lord mentioned the report from Amnesty International, which states that the official death toll has been 20,000 since 1990, and perhaps another 350 to 400 die in custody each year. But the evidence also shows that many killings are now being perpetrated by foreigners. Political dialogue cannot thrive in the climate of fear and uncertainly which still exists.

If the Kashmiris are to express a view on the negotiations about their constitutional status, as the noble Lord rightly suggests, mechanisms must be created to allow them to communicate. An essential preliminary would be to open up the line of control, under close supervision, to ensure that all those crossing the line do so for peaceful purposes.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, also mentioned the exchanges of fire across the line of control by Indian and Pakistani forces which killed no fewer than 240 people in 1998. Each side claims that the other initiates the shelling, and the 45 military observers of UNMOGIP throw no light on the matter. As the noble Lord pointed out, its reports are not made public. They are placed in a secret filing cabinet at UN headquarters in New York.

In January, I proposed to the Indian and Pakistan Governments and the UN Secretary-General that these reports should be made public and that the Secretary-General instructs UNMOGIP to comment in each case on who initiates each round of firing. It would be able to do that irrespective of which side of the line of control they stand observing. That could act as a strong disincentive to the aggressor, whoever that may be, and it could even stop this pointless military activity altogether, saving 200 lives a year and making a huge difference to the lives of people in the Neelum Valley and Kargil.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Paul

My Lords, I am grateful to my friend Lord Ahmed for introducing this Question. Since a news item appeared in one of this morning's ethnic newspapers, I have been flooded with advice, but I wish to see the matter in a completely different perspective.

I was born in India and received part of my education in what is now Pakistan. I have emotional and economic ties in the region, where I am a frequent visitor, and have also had the benefit of talking to the policy-makers for many years. I therefore have strong feelings about the aspirations of the people there.

Anyone who has been fortunate enough to know both countries will acknowledge that India and Pakistan are mature societies capable of sustaining democratic systems of government. Both nations are profoundly protective of their sovereignty and proud of their ability to conduct what they believe are independent foreign policies. It behoves us to recognise and appreciate these sensitivities.

We have seen the good will generated by the Indian Prime Minister's recent journey to Lahore, and the very warm and cordial response of the Pakistan Prime Minister. I have had the benefit of meeting the Indian Prime Minister since that visit and he was very hopeful that a solution acceptable to both countries would be found. I shall also quote the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who in a recent statement said: When Vajpayee visited Lahore he was very clear that he wanted to solve all the issues, including Kashmir. He was sincere". It is useful to remember that sometimes external involvements and interventions, even those made with the best of intentions by the best of friends, can aggravate local sensitivities. India and Pakistan know well that Britain's good offices are available whenever requested.

Goodwill is not often sustained by unsolicited involvement in the affairs of friendly states. The fact is that unsolicited help is most unwelcome anywhere. In my view, the best and most welcome contribution that Britain can make in the sub-continent is to continue to support and encourage democracy. It serves the interests of the region and our national interest as well. We should continue those successful and welcome bilateral efforts and concentrate our focus on them. The goals that we seek—peace and prosperity in South Asia—are more likely to evolve through that approach than any other.

I want to raise one further issue. The Asian community in Britain is vibrant, dynamic and law-abiding, but unwanted involvement, which is seen as interference in the matters of the sub-continent, very often raises passions that divide the community, which we must avoid.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I was one of the lucky few to accompany my noble friend Lord Ahmed on his recent visit to his country of birth. It was a vivid experience and I would like to record my thanks to our hosts, the Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri Governments. Although we were given their views of the conflict, we heard enough from other sources to learn that neither side can claim to be wholly innocent or wholly to blame for the continuing low-grade conflict, with its ever-present risk of escalation now even to a nuclear level.

That threat loomed over our discussions and our journey, which took us through spectacular scenery visiting refugee camps near Muzaffarabad and the village of Chokoti on the line of control. The refugees, of whom there are 14,000, are not recognised as such by the UNHCR, which gives no assistance to Pakistan, Can my noble friend say whether the Government can find a way of overcoming that difficulty?

My overall impression was of a beautiful country but one whose development is still very backward. We were shown ambitious plans for its development in education, agriculture, infrastructure and tourism, for instance, but investment for such matters is not forthcoming because of the unstable military and political situation. The infant mortality rate is still far too high, at 99 per 1,000. Access to healthcare is difficult because some dwellings are remote, up steep mountain pathways. A vast programme of road-building and agricultural investment is needed.

However, both India and Pakistan are devoting high proportions of their resources to military expenditure, largely because of the Kashmir conflict. I suggest that the opening of the Delhi to Lahore bus route and the Lahore Declaration made by the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers, and referred to by my noble friend Lord Avebury, has let in a chink of light. Talks to be held as a result will not exclude Kashmir. Let us hope that those discussions start with small things to build confidence, as my noble friend Lord Avebury suggested. They could include better observance of the ceasefire along the line of control and an end to the move of militants across the line of control, together with—this is very important—a full return to the rule of law in Jammu and Kashmir, especially in the valley. That would be a proper response to the damning Amnesty International report recently published on disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir.

In turn, I suggest that those measures may lead to the opening up of another bus route, from Srinagar in the valley of Kashmir to Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir. That would symbolise the beginning of free movement and trade between Indian and Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. Those would be small beginnings, but small beginnings may lead to more substantial changes such as the mutual withdrawal of troops from Kashmir asked for by my noble friend. Perhaps I am an optimist, but it could be done.

7.43 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, this is a critical time for India and Pakistan and we should celebrate the successful talks which were held recently between the two Prime Ministers. I was warned when I joined this House that the issue of Kashmir almost stifles the debate on India and I hope to avoid that. We do not want to return to 1947. As one who has friends among the vast Moslem minority in India, I would do anything to enable them to live in a state free from the communal violence which occurred recently when the BJP and Shiv Sena first came to power.

It is politically important to the acting Prime Minister that he shows statesmanship at a time when the missiles are being test-fired and there is at least an appearance of an agreement on Kashmir on the horizon. All these events may be eclipsed by the new political stalemate.

We cannot be nostalgic for India's non-aligned, anti-nuclear stance under Nehru, which has long given way to a potentially stronger, more technologically advanced country desperate for international respect, foreign investment and nuclear club membership. In spite of what has been said, today India needs some defence. She appears even more vulnerable than ever to aggression along her northern border.

The big five nuclear "great ghosts", or Panch Mahabhoot as they are known in India, see things quite differently. Japan and the United States are irritated. Our own Government find it hard to reconcile the India of long-range missiles with the nation of 1 billion mostly very poor people for whom we have budgeted a 50 per cent increase to £130 million in aid in the latest public expenditure plans up to 2002.

As one who has experienced India's poverty, I find the arms race in India and in Pakistan both expensive and alarming. I hope that the Indian Government, having swallowed their nuclear pride, will soon swiftly return to their stated basic aims of raising living standards, reforming the economy and restoring relations with Pakistan.

One thing that seems to be agreed is that the two Prime Ministers have developed a mutual respect which goes a lot further than a frontier bus service. The Lahore Declaration demonstrated a willingness to talk on both sides which had not been present for many years. They certainly do not need Tony Blair to help them, as was suggested before Easter in another place by Tom Cox, the Member of Parliament for Tooting. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that since our own bilateral relations with India have not always been easy, we would do well to support the status quo and the present trend of careful negotiations behind the scenes. We will not necessarily get the same from a return of the Congress government.

7.46 p.m.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Ahmed for instigating this timely debate, in which I take part with great trepidation. As a British parliamentarian I am always mindful of the need for—and I only support—a considered role in international conflict resolution, especially given our relationship within the historical context.

Recent peaceful resolutions of conflict have come about only when both sides have sat down together. One does not need to look further than Northern Ireland, South Africa, Israel and Palestine. Mindful of the details given by my noble friend Lord Ahmed, I hope that the Minister will examine, through the appropriate channels, the allegations regarding the plight of the refugees and in particular the torture and alleged rape of women and children.

Whatever we do in regard to this conflict, I hope that we remember our imperial past. Any role must be restricted to that of a facilitator, but that must be on the basis that both parties ask the British Government for that intervention.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I too shall make an extremely brief intervention in this important debate. I want to thank my noble friend for raising this debate. I know that the subject is extremely important to him and that he has done a great amount of work in his short time in this House in raising the issue on the Floor of the House and in the Corridors.

We have heard that India and Pakistan have been at war three times since they gained independence and we have heard that Kashmir is the single most contentious issue between those two countries. I thank my noble friend for sending me the Amnesty International report about disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir.

It appears that the real substance of the debate is how much we can help India and Pakistan resolve their differences bilaterally and whether we can help provide a forum in which they can reach that accommodation. On listening to the debate so far, I agree with my noble friend Lord Paul that it is an extremely sensitive issue. Nevertheless, that does not absolve us of the responsibility of doing whatever we can to help.

I thought it might be helpful for me to make a comment slightly off the beat of other noble Lords. As many noble Lords will be aware, I have a connection with the Council of Europe. It is not too fanciful to point out that both Azerbaijan and Russia, which are members of the Council of Europe, are far closer geographically speaking than they are to this country.

It is worth pointing out too that the whole ethos of the Council of Europe is precisely geared to reconciling the problems between minority groups and democratically elected governments. The very foundation and the most profound beliefs of that institution involve trying to recognise the dilemma that exists between those problems and the European Convention on Human Rights, which last year we incorporated into British law. Considering the practical implications of adopting the European Convention on Human Rights in this country and other member states of the Council of Europe may be of some assistance in trying to find solutions to help the Indian and Pakistan Governments.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I welcome this debate. There is a danger that debates of this nature could become one-sided, but I am delighted at the number of contributions that noble Lords have made on this subject. I also welcome Her Majesty's Government's repeated assurances that it is primarily for India and Pakistan to reach a solution over Kashmir and to resolve the tension between the two countries.

Following the meeting in September between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in New York, there has been steady progress in improving relations between the two countries. I welcome that. We ought not to destabilise that process by outside intervention. The two Prime Ministers decided that their Foreign Secretaries could meet to have a composite dialogue on all outstanding matters, including Kashmir. This is an ongoing process, with the next round of meetings in May and June in Delhi and Islamabad. That is certainly a welcome sign.

There have been a lot of further developments since the meetings of the Prime Ministers. There have been trade agreements between India and Pakistan. The Indian Prime Minister undertook a historic visit to Pakistan on a bus journey. All of us would welcome that, especially those of us who travel on Indian or Pakistan buses and who realise how difficult those journeys can be. The Lahore Declaration, a landmark for peace and security between the two nations, was signed in February 1999. That included the taking of immediate steps to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons.

The two Prime Ministers also decided to raise the level of periodic interaction at foreign minister level. A number of initiatives emerged from that. Interaction at parliamentary level picked up. An India-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce has now been set up. The visa regime between the two countries has also been relaxed and people are now able to travel. Prisoners from both countries have been released following the meeting of the two Prime Ministers. In spite of the bilateral agreement on pre-notification of flights not yet having been signed, both India and Pakistan informed each other in advance of the recent missile tests.

That is a clear and progressive path of improvement in relations between India and Pakistan. There is a shared desire by the leadership of both countries to resolve all outstanding issues through the process of bilateral dialogue which is already in place. It is also heartening to note that, following the recent developments in India in which the ruling party lost a vote of confidence in parliament, the Pakistan Government announced their intention to continue their dialogue with India whichever party comes to power. That is a sign of mature leadership and that is what we should be supporting.

Under those circumstances, all well-meaning friends in the international community of nations should wish India and Pakistan the best in their current endeavour and should refrain from any act or suggestion which may only serve to derail the two countries from their chosen path of enhancing peace and security for both. We must influence the confidence-building measures aimed at improving the security environment and refrain from intervention and interference in other nations' internal affairs.

It is right that we should stress our commitment to human rights—wherever, whenever and by whomsoever they are abused. It is unfortunate that we only have one-sided quotations on that subject. Let me read what the Amnesty International report said: In 1997, Amnesty International documented how such groups have, over the years, harassed, Intimidated, tortured and killed civilians. Failing to distinguish between military and civilian targets, their targets have included civilian men, women and children, journalists and members of the Hindu minority". We are dealing with the world's largest democracy in India and a stable democratic government in Pakistan. This morning I picked up a report from Reuters from Muzaffarabad which quotes a well-known militant outfit indicating that recent bilateral relations have had an adverse effect on militancy. That is good and that is what we should encourage. We need a language of restraint. We should work towards removing sanctions against both countries. Selective use of one-sided information can only damage this process and may also damage good community relations in this country.

7.54 p.m.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ahmed for providing the opportunity for this House to give consideration to the important Question he poses.

There is indeed an urgent need for a fresh initiative from the international community. In the past few weeks we have seen the competition between India and Pakistan grow as the testing of nuclear weapon carriers has taken place. The thought of what might happen if the state of tension between the two countries is not ended is terrifying, not just for the good people of both those nations, but for the whole region and possibly the world.

As my noble friend Lord Ahmed said, central to the difficulties that stand in the way of better relations between India and Pakistan is the unresolved issue of Kashmir. Later this year we shall mark the 51st anniversary of the Security Council resolution that provided for the holding of a plebiscite after demilitarisation and the establishment of a plebiscite administration. The fact that no plebiscite has taken place is well known to your Lordships' House. Many efforts have been made over a long period of tune to draw attention to the need for the United Nations resolution to be implemented.

The tension between Pakistan and India that my noble friend Lord Ahmed described will remain until the principle of self-determination for the people of Kashmir is resolved. In these few moments this evening it is not possible to record the many false starts and hopes that the people of Kashmir have lived through over the past half century. The time is right for a fresh initiative. Any new initiative should come from the United Nations. Though we bear a historic responsibility for our part in the events of the 1947–48 period, we should be seeking an international initiative to bring this too-long conflict to an end.

Surely we have seen enough in recent times in other parts of the world to realise that unresolved disputes can lead to dreadful consequences. There have been wars, United Nations debates, pledges—some going back to those made by Lord Mountbatten and Nehru in 1947; pledges that clearly indicated an acceptance of the principle that the people of Kashmir must have the right to decide their own future by the recognised democratic method of plebiscite or referendum. That principle of self-determination must be pursued by the United Nations.

Like other noble Lords, I was privileged to go with my noble friend Lord Ahmed to Pakistan and Kashmir. Time does not allow me to go into the detail that I should like to record this evening and report to the House. We visited a camp that I should like to describe. It was late afternoon, exactly two weeks ago today. I sat in a place where I could hear the joyous sound of children laughing and playing as children do all over the world. Even though it was late in the afternoon, it was very hot. The smell of wood fires burning and birds singing brought back happy memories to me of childhood camping.

It was the sight of a small child looking out of a hut that quickly brought me back to reality; a little face expressing the sadness of where we were. We were sitting in one of the 20 refugee camps in Kashmir which currently house over 14,000 people—people who thought they were lucky with their lot. Unfortunately time does not allow me to go into the detail. Others have referred to the 65,000 people killed and 27,000 wounded. I could go on to talk of the 7,000 who have been sexually incapacitated through torture and the 7,000 children between the ages of seven and 10 who have been raped. Those and many other stories we heard are the result of the unresolved conflict that is Kashmir today.

Perhaps I may spend a few moments explaining that the reason I am speaking this evening is that the representative of the refugees concluded his presentation to us of the plight of his people with a request that those who visited should remember that in his and other camps were mothers, fathers and children who looked to the international community to give a voice to their plight. He said if there is a pain in one hand, there is a pain in the whole body. The Question posed by my noble friend Lord Ahmed this evening provides us with the opportunity to fulfil that request.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I am sorry, I must remind your Lordships that we are acutely short of time in this debate. Noble Lords must try to keep inside their time limit.

8 p.m.

Lord Evans of Watford

My Lords, much of my prepared speech has already been covered by other noble Lords. I shall not, therefore, detain the House with unnecessary repetition. I also had the privilege of visiting Azad Kashmir a few weeks ago. On my visit I was impressed, I was shocked and I was deeply moved.

I was impressed by the dignity and friendliness of the people. They are very pro-British and look to us to help them. After all, we were very much involved in the root causes of the dispute, when a mainly Moslem state was handed to a Hindu democracy. We certainly, therefore, have to bear our share of the responsibility.

I was shocked to see the absolute poverty and the very sad conditions in the refugee camps. As a grandfather of three young children, I was deeply moved to see the state of their poor children. I wonder what future they can look forward to, and this, of course, is partly up to us. I have the feeling that things will get worse before they get better, but I hope that time will prove me wrong.

The recent testing of intermediate ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads is obviously a major cause for concern, not just for India and Pakistan but for the whole world. It seems to me that we are facing the real threat of a nuclear holocaust, and I call upon the Government to put the greatest pressure possible on both India and Pakistan to meet to resolve their differences peaceably.

I was also very encouraged to read the Prime Minister's words last week, talking about Kosovo, when he said: This is a conflict we are fighting not for territory but for values, for a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated". What is right in the Balkans must surely be right in south Asia. Ethnic cleansing is now going on in Kashmir—killings, torture, arson, expulsion and gang rapes of women. Apart from the appalling acts of rape and the far worse acts of gang rape, the poor women concerned, once violated, have no chance of marriage. It is a terrible situation.

I support the Kashmiri people's right of self-determination in accordance with the United Nations resolution and I hope that they are successful in their negotiations. That said, in reality I believe the United States Government have the greatest chance of persuading India and Pakistan to resolve their differences. I urge Her Majesty's Government to do all that they can to help.

8.2 p.m.

The Earl of Dartmouth

My Lords, we should base ourselves on the proposition that there can be no good relations between India and Pakistan until and unless there is a fair and equitable solution to the problems of Kashmir. The Government and the Foreign Secretary have stated many, many times their commitment to a moral and ethical foreign policy. I therefore urge the Minister that the Foreign Office and the Government should make forthwith a strong and effective commitment to an equitable solution for Kashmir, which, unlike Kosovo, is an area where Britain has both a moral responsibility and strong historic links.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I fully understand what the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and his noble friends Lord Clarke and Lord Evans have pointed to—that is, their great concern about the continuing war in Kashmir, which when the spring comes tends to become worse as the snows melt from the Himalayas and it becomes easier to continue warfare.

I also recognise that there is a good deal in what they say about some of the human rights violations. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Paul, and others have said, it is also important to recognise that the accusations are made both ways and that there is some reason to believe that there has been support by the Pakistani intelligence services for the training of guerrillas who subsequently infiltrate into the Indian part of Kashmir, with some considerable suffering and victimisation of Hindu civilians.

I would not wish to make some Solomon-like judgment in a situation with which we are all too familiar—that is, Northern. Ireland and now Kosovo—a situation of mutual hatreds, of historical vicious circles and of the great difficulty of trying to reach a mutual agreement.

It is of course true that the testing of weapons by both Pakistan and India has made the dangers of a mistake over Kashmir much more serious than they would otherwise have been. But, like many who have spoken, I take great comfort from the coming together at last of the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and of India. The fact that they have been able to meet, that they issued the Lahore Declaration, that they have established a bus line between them, that India has now entered into a contract for natural gas supplies from Pakistan, that there is now a discussion about other ways in which to ease their relations and, as my noble friend Lord Avebury pointed out, the very important fact that each gave advance notice to the other of a missile test are all signs of growing maturity and growing tolerance between the two nations.

My personal view is that it would not be helpful for Britain to try to intervene and suggest that it should be an arbiter. Some will remember the early visit by the Foreign Secretary to India, where just such an approach was strongly repudiated. I doubt whether repeating it would be much more successful.

I believe that as a country we should give every possible support to the establishment of better bilateral relations. We should indicate our willingness to help in any way we can the economic recovery of Kashmir, We should do our very best to encourage both countries to sign the nuclear test covenants, which would assist us in de-escalating the tension that exists today. Here I refer particularly to the comprehensive nuclear test ban. I notice that only today Prime Minister Prirnakov of Russia has strongly advocated to Pakistan and India that they should sign the nuclear test ban treaty. I believe that that is the way in which we should help and encourage them both. I do not believe that our intervention in the bilateral talks now well established would be helpful to either country or in the end to the cause of peace in Kashmir.

8.6 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, on initiating this important debate—important and timely for several reasons, not least as the two countries in question cover one-fifth of the world's population, with approximately 1.5 billion people.

I fully support the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998 are one of the defining events of what is still called the post-Cold-War era. The weakening of the non-proliferation regime, the humiliation of America's vast intelligence gathering machinery, the intensification of geopolitical rivalry in Asia and the risk of destabilising, copycat effects from the Middle East to the northern Pacific are all major consequences, either actual or potential, of India and Pakistan's nuclear "outing".

What can we do to establish a stable nuclear deterrent relationship between India and Pakistan, with particular emphasis on the role which the outside world can play in producing the least malign outcome in this respect? The issue is of major importance, as an unstable nuclear relationship could lead to a catastrophic nuclear conflict.

In the short time available I will confine my few words to India and Pakistan and not go into the future nuclear relationship of India and China. This is a deliberate choice. In a negative sense, this choice does not imply that China's nuclear policy has no bearing on India's policies; indeed, one of the major impediments to a stable deterrent relationship between India and Pakistan is involved here. To alleviate the current state of tension, we need to assess their future nuclear relationship.

India and Pakistan are not nuclear newcomers. In 1974 New Delhi detonated a nuclear fission device nearly the size of the Hiroshima bomb. This was the product of distinguished research in nuclear affairs by India since the 1940s, to which China's nuclear blast of 1964 gave a major impetus.

As a young parliamentarian in 1964, Vajpayee, India's Prime Minister, claimed that, The answer to an atom bomb is an atom bomb, nothing else". India's first Prime Minister, Nehru, stated in 1946, before independence: I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes … But if India is threatened, she will inevitably, try to defend herself by all means at her disposal". As for Pakistan, its excursions into the nuclear realm appear to have begun in earnest immediately after its defeat in the war with India in 1970–71 and to have accelerated strongly following India's 1974 test. As far back as 1967, Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's future Prime Minister, wrote: If Pakistan restricts … her nuclear programme, it would … enable India to blackmail Pakistan with her nuclear technology". The simmering conflict in Kashmir cannot be forgotten. It is to some degree reassuring that a major inadvertent escalation has not occurred. The first and not least important step that we should recognise is that solutions must be found by India and Pakistan themselves. Hectoring and lecturing, particularly from the established nuclear-weapon states, will be counter-productive, as they are all well equipped intellectually to understand the challenges. Overt pressure to renounce their capability would backfire. Sanctions will not lead either country to abandon its capability and would have a disproportionate effect on the poor.

I seek assurances from the Minister this evening that Her Majesty's Government will look at positive measures whereby we could play a part in diffusing the tension in Kashmir and, on the economic front, I urge them not to support sanctions and not to veto World Bank or IMF credits.

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Ahmed for raising this subject. It is of great interest to many people in the United Kingdom and, as we have seen this evening, it raises a number of passionately held views.

Links between the United Kingdom and India and Pakistan are deep-rooted and long-standing. They are embedded in the fabric of British society today, through trade and development and through the close personal ties which nearly 2 million Britons have with the sub-continent. As my noble friend Lord Paul said, they have very strong views about the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan.

The origins of the tensions between India and Pakistan can be traced back to the time of independence in 1947. There have been three wars between India and Pakistan—in 1948, 1965 and 1971—all of which, to a greater or lesser extent, have been about Kashmir.

In 1947, Kashmir was a princely state. It was up to such states to determine whether they should accede to India or Pakistan. By the time of the British withdrawal, the Maharajah of Kashmir had yet to make his decision. Faced with an uprising in his western territories, he acceded to India, an action which has remained controversial to this day. Indian forces were sent to assist him, but fighting soon widened into a more general war between India and Pakistan. The United Nations arranged a ceasefire, dividing the state along what is approximately the current line of control. I wish to return to the points made about that by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in a few moments. Subsequently, Jammu and Kashmir was provided with an exceptional degree of autonomy under Article 370 of the constitution.

However, in 1989 violent unrest broke out in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Large numbers of Indian security forces were sent to restore order. The local government was removed. Human rights abuses occurred. The state remained under central rule until the Indian Government held state elections in 1996 and a national conference government, under Farooq Abdullah, took power. However, militancy still continues in the state.

Against that history of conflict and tension, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, we have welcomed the resumption of talks last year between India and Pakistan on the issues between them, including Kashmir. The talks in Lahore between the Prime Ministers, Sharif and Vajpayee, were significant, as my noble friend Lord Paul pointed out. That was the first time that an Indian Prime Minister had visited Pakistan in ten years, travelling on the inaugural bus service from Delhi to Lahore.

The launching of the bus service is one of the welcome confidence-building measures that has been seen in recent months, as was the Test cricket series held in India in February.

There are measures that we have welcomed, and they should not be overlooked. They may seem relatively trivial but they are important in those confidence-building measures. Any measure which creates that confidence and warmth between India and Pakistan can only be of benefit to both countries and the region as a whole, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby pointed out.

Hence, we have welcomed the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers' joint statement issued last month reiterating the importance of the Lahore Declaration and agreeing to build upon it, through meetings of experts, for implementation of the declaration.

My noble friend Lord Ahmed raised specific points about family visits, promoting meaningful dialogue and trade. We welcome any action by India and Pakistan which eases the contacts between their peoples. The Prime Ministers, at Lahore, agreed that the two sides would hold consultations with a view to liberalising the visa and travel regimes and reaffirmed their commitment to the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation as a means of accelerating growth, social progress and cultural development—all very important points.

We hope that the next Indian government will take forward the bilateral dialogue and that further talks on topics discussed last November will indeed be held, as was declared in the joint statement. As my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead said, good relations between India and Pakistan are important not only for themselves but for regional stability. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, we hope that both countries can maintain the recent dialogue and build on the meeting in Lahore in relation to a number of different bilateral issues.

Of course, Kashmir is one of the longest-running disputes in the world. There is still no resolution after 50 years. The continuing conflict between militants and the Indian security forces affects individual, ordinary Kashmiris. Many have died and many have been forced to leave their homes. There has been serious violence and human rights violations. Sadly, those continue today.

We remain deeply concerned about the situation there. We condemn acts of terrorism and abuses of human rights that bring suffering to the people. We also call for an end to all external support for any violence in Kashmir. My right honourable friend Derek Fatchett raised human rights issues with the Indian Home Minister, Mr L. K. Advani, in November last year and urged in particular an improvement in the human rights situation in Kashmir. The Indian authorities can be in no doubt about our commitment to human rights. We shall also continue to impress upon them the importance of bringing wrongdoers to justice and the benefits of greater transparency in investigating abuses.

Against that background, we have welcomed the steps taken by the Indian Government in recent years to address human rights concerns. One step forward was the establishment of a national human rights commission in 1993. We have welcomed also the decision by many states, including Jammu and Kashmir, to form their own human rights commissions, another very important point.

I assure my noble friend Lord Ahmed that we shall also continue to urge the Indian authorities to allow more visits by international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the United Nations rapporteurs to India. Officials from our High Commission in Delhi visit Kashmir regularly and returned just last week from their most recent visit.

Regarding a further point raised by my noble friend, it is, we believe, for India to determine its own legislation in the face of continuing violence from militant groups. We welcome the decision by the Indian authorities to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons in Jammu and Kashmir, another very important point, as I hope your Lordships will agree.

We have long urged both countries to find a just and lasting solution, acceptable to the population of Kashmir on both sides of the line of control, and we shall continue to do so. As my noble friend mentioned, any solution, if it is to last, must involve and reflect the view of the people living in Kashrnir.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised important points about the line of control. I understand that the noble Lord has put ideas on demilitarising the line of control to the UN Secretary-General. We support the aim of making the line of control safer for ordinary people and hope that, through the bilateral process under way in India and Pakistan, some progress will be made in that regard.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, also raised the question of attacks on religious minorities. I hope that the noble Viscount will be reassured by the fact that we have made clear to both India and Pakistan that we are concerned about the recent attacks on religious minorities. India has high world standing for its respect for religious diversity. We trust that the actions announced by the Indian Government will bring the attackers to justice and prevent further attacks. The Foreign Secretary and Mr. Fatchett have both raised the issue at a very high level with their interlocutors.

The Pakistani constitution protects the rights of religious minorities, but reports of persecution by groups of individuals persist. In February my right honourable friend Mr. Fatchett urged the Minister of Law in Pakistan to ensure that the laws protecting minorities would be fully implemented.

A number of your Lordships have raised questions about missile testing, notably my noble friend Lord Ahmed and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. We regret that India and Pakistan have chosen to conduct missile tests. We continue to believe that developing nuclear weapons and missiles systems is not in the interests of India or Pakistan. We urge both India and Pakistan to adhere unconditionally to the relevant non-proliferation regimes and not to deploy nuclear weapons or delivery systems. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said on these points. We need the two countries to continue to build trust and confidence. To do that they have to tackle the root causes of the tension that lies between them.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lord Evans of Watford dwelt largely on the issues concerning poverty and aid. We have substantial development assistance programmes for poverty reduction in both India and Pakistan. In India we are spending about £100 million this year supporting programmes in education, health, water, sanitation, energy, urban poverty and rural development. In Pakistan we are spending about £20 million this year, directed primarily at improving basic social services such as education, health, reproductive health, water supplies and sanitation. Much of this aid effort will be aimed at women and girls.

From the diversity of contributions that we have had in your Lordships' House this evening we can see that there are no magic solutions to the issues which divide India and Pakistan. We applaud the personal commitments made by the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers to intensify efforts to resolve bilateral issues, including the difficult issue of Kashmir. It is important that both countries work to capitalise on Lahore and to make substantive progress on the issues between them. As my noble friend Lord Paul so wisely pointed out, after all, they are mature democracies. I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, that the governments of both countries are well aware that we remain willing to help, but any offer of help, whether from the United Kingdom or others, must be acceptable to both countries if it is to have any chance of success. In that respect I agree very strongly with the point put forward by my noble friend Lady Uddin in a short but very telling address to your Lordships.

We wish India and Pakistan success in their search for solutions to this and other bilateral issues. We hope that they can build on the meeting in Lahore and that they will maintain the momentum to reach a just and lasting solution.