HL Deb 09 December 2004 vol 667 cc978-81

11.16 a.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether President Musharraf's recent visit has been beneficial for the development of United Kingdom policies in Pakistan and Kashmir.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, yes. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and President Musharraf agreed to broaden bilateral co-operation, including on counter-terrorism, trade and development issues and against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. They also discussed Pakistan's relations with India. The Prime Minister warmly welcomed the composite dialogue process and urged further efforts by Pakistan and India to find a lasting resolution to the issue of Kashmir that takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can she tell us whether, during his recent visit, Her Majesty's Government discussed with President Musharraf his views on the progressive role of religion? If so, how can this country assist him in that mission, which has enormous implications for peace in the region?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as the right reverend Prelate will know, President Musharraf and the Prime Minister had an exchange on enlightened moderation in the Islamic world. They discussed the far-reaching measures taken by Pakistan to eliminate extremism and militancy in that country. So the general point about religion was tackled. Of course, the right reverend Prelate will also know that in the past we have raised particular concerns about the plight of the Christian and Ahmadi minorities in Pakistan.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the noble Baroness noticed reports of a meeting which is due to begin tomorrow in Kathmandu, Nepal, between representatives of Kashmiri opinion on both sides of the line of control? If, as the noble Baroness suggests, there is agreement between us and President Musharraf that the people of Kashmir must be given an instrumental role to play in any solution to the problem, does she not also agree that an institutional framework needs to be erected through which those views can be expressed, instead of an occasional ad hoc meeting?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not think that these are occasional ad hoc meetings. The Prime Minister and President Musharraf discussed Kashmir, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, knows, having had a look at the joint statement that was issued after their discussions. The Prime Minister encouraged President Musharraf to make further efforts to find a lasting resolution to the outstanding issues. Moreover, the composite dialogue, to which I referred in my opening remarks, has a very specific part dedicated to the Kashmiri question. So this is part of the dialogue between India and Pakistan, but the Kashmiri question will be one of the underlying difficulties that will be constantly revisited in the course of the composite dialogue.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, one of the most encouraging things that President Musharraf said to parliamentarians and others was that he gave a high priority to education, specifically in the Madrassahs, which have been the main source of the political extremism that we have seen. Are the Government giving the same high priority in their aid programme and in other ways to education, not only through the Madrassahs but in schools in general?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I was not fortunate enough to hear President Musharraf's address to parliamentarians, but a number of your Lordships have gone out of your way to tell me during the week how much his speech was appreciated, both for the breadth of the subject matter covered and for the candour with which President Musharraf addressed the issues.

Education is a vital part of the United Kingdom's development programme with Pakistan. Our commitment to Pakistan is demonstrated by the approximately £70 million of development assistance that we are giving this year. Social development, particularly in education and health, continues to be a very high priority in that development programme.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, further to that reply, does the Minister agree that President Musharraf made a very favourable impression during his visit here, particularly with regard to the way in which he is now determined to tackle internal and external terrorism and the way in which he is addressing the Kashmiri issue, although he faces a minefield of difficulties?

Did the Minister notice that in one interview the president said that he thought that inside Pakistan they had broken the back of Al'Qaeda? If that is so, it is good news and very important for us. Can the Minister confirm, yet again, that we are now prepared to give full support at intelligence, technical co-operation and military assistance levels to mop up Al'Qaeda finally in the mountains of Pakistan and to carry through the war on terrorism to a successful conclusion?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the threat of global terrorism is one of the major issues under discussion between this country and Pakistan. It featured heavily in the discussions between my right honourable friend and the president of Pakistan. As to the questions involving terrorism in its broadest sense—particularly terrorism coming over the border from Afghanistan—and the way in which terrorism and crime can operate alongside each other, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, will have noticed that in the joint declaration my right honourable friend thanked the president for his courage in standing firm against terrorism, which is such a big threat to international security. There was agreement that, whatever the cause of terrorism, it should be tackled and that there should be increased bilateral co-operation, especially in dealing with the terrorist networks that we know are working in Pakistan and in this country.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine

My Lords, did any discussions take place on Kashmir and the cross-border infiltration from the Pakistani side? Does the Minister see any possibility of assistance through a UN peacekeeping force so that there is independent monitoring of the issue?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I had hoped that my initial Answer indicated that there had been helpful discussions of the issues surrounding Kashmir. We very much welcome the fact that the ceasefire introduced in November 2003 still holds good, and we warmly encourage the positive development in the composite dialogue between Pakistan and India. However, the question needs to be resolved by India and Pakistan. It is, as the noble Baroness will know, a delicate question. We are giving our full support to the engagement of the two countries on the issue but, as my initial Answer pointed out, we hope that any solution takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

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