HL Deb 30 April 2003 vol 647 cc696-9

3 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, following the joint statement of 27th March by the United States Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary on steps to reduce tension between India and Pakistan, they have any further initiatives in mind.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the Government are continuing to work closely with our international partners, particularly the United States, to encourage further de-escalatory moves on both sides. It is important that both countries start and sustain a process aimed at building confidence, normalising bilateral relations and resolving outstanding differences, including Kashmir. As part of this effort, US Deputy Secretary of State Armitage will be visiting the region in early May. United Kingdom contact with the Indian and Pakistani Governments will continue through our high commissioners, as well as through planned contacts with senior visitors from the two countries in May and June.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, having broken the taboo, which has lasted for 30 years, that all matters of dispute between India and Pakistan are to be settled solely through bilateral negotiations under the Simla Agreement, will not the Government take this matter a stage further and agree that the poor relations between New Delhi and Islamabad constitute a threat to international peace that justifies consideration by the Security Council under chapter 7 of the charter? In this connection, will the Government consider proposing that UNMOGIP, the UN observer force on the boundary between Indian and Pakistani-held Kashmir—which is the longest-standing United Nations mission in history—should be asked to play a more active role, particularly in reporting on the shelling across the line of control and on which side is mainly responsible for it, so that the international community can see what are the facts?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right. In terms of the relationship between India and Pakistan there has been a focus on this being an issue that the two countries have to resolve. Our position remains the same. A dialogue between India and Pakistan on these issues is very important. That is why the recent statement by India's Prime Minister is very helpful. The international community's role should be to support these efforts. That is why the visit of the Deputy Secretary of State will be important and why the visits here in May will be important. The UN is involved. I take the noble Lord's point about the monitoring of action across the line of control, a matter which he knows the international community takes very seriously. We saw an escalation in that violence last year. That violence has now de-escalated but we are keeping a close eye on the situation. If there is a further role for the United Nations, then of course there will be discussions in that forum.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is great concern that the impunity of the perpetrators of past and present human rights abuses in Kashmir continues without the full investigation of incidents? Would Her Majesty's Government support international investigation of massacres of civilians, including the massacre of Sikhs which took place on the eve of President Clinton's visit to India? Will Her Majesty's Government ask the Indian Government to allow Amnesty International and other international human rights organisations to visit Kashmir in order to investigate some of the excessive abuses of human rights? Would the Government support a special rapporteur on Kashmir such as there is on Sudan and other countries?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is well aware that we have condemned all violence associated with the differences between India and Pakistan, particularly in relation to Kashmir. Indeed, the statement recently made by my right honourable friend Jack Straw and Colin Powell while they were at Camp David was made in response to that violence, which they condemned. We shall continue to condemn that violence and we shall continue to talk to India and Pakistan about our concerns. The important first step has already been taken through the dialogue which has started on both sides. We hope that this will lead to the investigation of massacres that have taken place. It is very important that both sides should have a degree of confidence in the longer term.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Question gives the House an opportunity to join in the universal condemnation of the particularly horrific massacre at Nadimarg which took place towards the end of last March? While both sides have a duty to participate in seeking a peace process, does the Minister agree that, as regards the line of control, Pakistan has a particular responsibility to attempt to identify who committed this appalling atrocity and to bring them to justice? Will the Minister join with me in welcoming the fact that the American Secretary of State and the American Government, together with our own Secretary of State, are focusing their minds on this problem in a thoroughly constructive way which should bring benefits in the future?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I have made our position absolutely clear in regard to the violence at the end of March. It was the trigger for the statement made by Secretary of State Colin Powell and my right honourable friend Jack Straw. I agree that we need to raise our serious concerns in our discussions with both sides. The noble Lord will know that we have been engaged in discussions with the Pakistani authorities about our concerns in regard to terrorism. We welcome the strong moves that they have made in that direction.

Lord Sandberg

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a little more effort by the British Government to try to get Pakistan back as a full member of the Commonwealth would be helpful, especially before President Musharraf pays a visit to this country in about six weeks' time?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that the issue of Pakistan is one of the items on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which is to meet in May. The group will make its own recommendations. It is important that we and the wider Commonwealth remain closely engaged with Pakistan, particularly through the transition process. We want to see the Commonwealth helping to sustain the process through technical and other kinds of assistance.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My lords, is it true that when Pakistan was set up Kashmir was promised a plebiscite as to its future? If so, how do the Government regard the holding of such a plebiscite in Kashmir?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is not quite as straightforward as that. There are very different views about whether or not such a plebiscite was promised. We have always said that it is important that India and Pakistan engage in close dialogue on this issue. That dialogue process has started and we wish to support it. The visits which are due to take place in May will be an important part of that process. I shall be happy to send the noble Lord a lengthy background brief on this matter.