HL Deb 10 December 2003 vol 655 cc67-8WA
Baroness Goudie

asked Her Majesty's Government: What is the purpose of the visit to Pakistan by the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. [HL280]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The Minister of State, my honourable friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mike O'Brien) is to visit Pakistan imminently. Pakistan is an important ally and partner of the UK. We work closely with Pakistan in a number of fields and our bilateral relationship is warm and close. Our mutual commitment to developing this relationship is shown by the successful visits to the United Kingdom by President Musharraf and Foreign Minister Kasuri during the course of 2003.

Pakistan is a key partner for the UK in the campaign against terrorism. With US, UK and other international support, Pakistan has arrested over 500 terrorist suspects since 11 September 2001, including leaders like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who is suspected of planning the attacks in New York. We also welcome and encourage measures taken by the Government of Pakistan against organisations which pose a threat to Pakistan's security and to regional and international stability, including efforts to root out the Al' Qaeda and Taliban elements which continue to destabilise Afghanistan in particular.

In the political sphere we value Pakistan's membership of the UN Security Council and have welcomed their constructive contribution in that forum over the past year. We hope to continue and intensify our co-operation in the year ahead. We are also engaging with Pakistan on a whole range of regional and global issues, both bilaterally and in other international fora.

We welcome recent progress in normalising relations between Pakistan and India, including the latest agreements on a ceasefire and resumption of air links. It has taken statesmanship by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee to achieve the progress so far. This is an encouraging start to a process which we hope, with sustained efforts of both sides to address each other's legitimate concerns, will lead to the resolution of all the outstanding issues between them, including on Kashmir.

Our defence relationship is deepening following the re-establishment of the UK-Pakistan Defence Co-operation Forum in early 2002. We greatly value our important and historic links with the Pakistan armed forces. We will maintain and build on this progress.

We have an important trade relationship. The UK is the biggest foreign investor in Pakistan and the UK is the country's fifth largest export market. All this is in the context of an increasingly stable and strong macro-economic environment in Pakistan, and a government committed to liberalising reform, including privatisation. We appreciate the good work being done in this field by the Pakistan-Britain Trade and Investment Forum (PBTIF), and the Pakistan-Britain Business Advisory Group (PBBAG). The UK was also a strong supporter of the establishment of the EU/Pakistan trade agreement in later 2001.

We are also working together in the field of judicial co-operation through the Joint Judicial Co-operation Working Group.

The UK remains committed to supporting Pakistan's long-term development. We are giving approximately £70 million of development assistance this year—four times more than previously—and last week agreed to the release of an additional tranche of £22.5 million in budget support for the Government of Pakistan's long-term poverty reduction strategy and the health and population welfare facility. This bilateral programme is focused on social sector development, particularly in education and health, to make a difference to the lives of those millions of Pakistanis who live in poverty. UK development assistance for Pakistan will amount to over £200 million over the next three years.

Finally, there are of course strong community links between the UK and Pakistan. Some 800,000 people of Pakistani heritage are estimated to live in the UK. Over 85,000 Pakistanis visited the UK in 2003, including 6,000 students, and we expect this to rise to over 100,000 next year. Under normal circumstances our visa operation in Pakistan is one of the busiest in the world, and we are working hard to restore a full service following the disruption caused by terrorist threats to High Commission personnel.