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Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): In thanking the Foreign Secretary, may I first congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), on his return to the Front Bench, and wish him well in his new role?
This is clearly a period of the greatest anxiety for the people of the sub-continent. However, there are millions of our own fellow British citizens in this country whose family origins lie in the sub-continent, in India, Pakistan and Kashmir itself. This is a time of special concern for them in respect of their friends and loved ones in the region, and our thoughts are very much with them. I hope that the most recent reports saying that there is some easing of tensions will provide some comfort.
Shortly after the events of 11 September, my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary warned that any instability between India and Pakistan was one of the greatest threats that the world might face in future. Sadly, it appears that that warning has now been realised. I welcome the Foreign Secretary's steps to withdraw staff and advise British citizens and those holding dual passports to leave India and Pakistan. What estimate has his Department made of the number of those warned who have taken the Foreign Office advice? What ongoing measures is his Department taking to ensure that British citizens abroad are kept informed of the unfolding situation?
There have been press reports over the weekend saying that the Government are making contingency plans for a considerable number of refugees coming to this country in the event of war. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that; indicate what arrangements are being made and for how many people; and tell us where such refugee camps would be established?
We have heard the threat of clashes and skirmishes and the rhetoric of "no first strike". Surely, the only acceptable language is that of "no war." The lack of a nuclear doctrine was raised before the Foreign Secretary's visit to the region. What progress did he make in establishing such a doctrine between the two countries?
During the cold war, there were direct communications links between the Kremlin and Washington at the highest level. If, as we understand, they do not exist in this case, surely every encouragement should be given to the two countries to establish a hotline without delay. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the risk of nuclear conflagration means that the matter is now no longer purely domestic, or even bilateral, but has been effectively internationalised? As we know from Chernobyl, terrible consequences will be felt well beyond the sub-continent.
Last week, the Secretary of State for Defence did not explicitly rule out UK troops being part of an international force to patrol the disputed line of control, the aim being to reassure India that serious attempts are being made to bring to an end guerrilla infiltration. Is the Foreign
The UK Government were signatories to the United Nations resolutions of 1948 and 1950 which, inter alia, called for Kashmiri opinion to be tested. What is the British Government's present view of that matter?
Those are important issues which the Foreign Secretary needs to clarify. We welcome his involvement in encouraging both sides to take a step back from conflict and his visit to the region, but it is of the utmost significance that the US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has been in the region, followed by Donald Rumsfeld, whose visit took place this week. The US has a crucial role to play. Equally, we welcome President's Putin leadership and involvement, and note the role that the other regional power, China, is playing, given its relationships with Pakistan and India.
Following the terrible events of 11 September, President Musharraf won many admirers by his statesmanlike response to those events and subsequent events in Afghanistan, despite intense domestic pressures and difficulties. Equally, the people of India have every reason to feel affronted by terrorist attacks on their own territory and especially on their own Parliament. For more than 50 years, India has been the world's greatest democracy. It therefore seems tragic that Kashmir, the most beautiful corner of the sub-continent, continues to act as the catalyst for mistrust, conflict and war.
With the apparent easing of tensions, it is to be hoped that high-level diplomatic representation can be re-established quickly in situ in Delhi and Islamabad, leading to a direct dialogue. We shall of course support any genuine attempt to broker a peaceful settlement of the dispute. In their endeavours to achieve that, with our allies and friends, the Government have our full support.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for the support he offers. On a personal level, I am also grateful for his welcome back to the Front Bench to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien). Since he, too, is sitting on the Front Bench, I should like to express my appreciation to the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), for the way in which he dealt with his portfolio as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister.
The hon. Gentleman asked several specific questions, each of which I shall endeavour to answer. I cannot say precisely how many British citizens have returned. We have given clear advice which has been relayed not only in the United Kingdom, where it will have been heard by relatives and friends of those who are in India and
The hon. Gentleman asked about contingency plans. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in association with the Home Office and other relevant Departments, maintains contingency plans on evacuation for about 100 countries. Obviously, countries in the sub-continent are among them; the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go into details, except to say that if and when we judge it appropriate to make those contingency plans active and public, of course the House will be the first to know. At the moment, while we obviously have to prepare for all contingencies, we live in hope that maybemaybethe better news over the weekend can be sustained.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether there has been a well-developed nuclear doctrine between India and Pakistan. While each side is developing what it describes as a nuclear doctrine, there is nothing like the level of sophistication nor anything like the failsafe measures that were developed by the Warsaw pact and NATO countries during the cold war. One lesson to be drawn from the history of east and west Europe is that as a result of the raising of the bar against the use of nuclear weapons by either side, east and westthe Warsaw pact and NATOeventually decided to resolve their intense disputes and arguments not by resorting to nuclear weapons but by peaceful means. Who would have thought, even 15 years ago, that Russia would now be effectively part of NATO? That is what we have achieved by peaceful means; we could never have done so by nuclear exchange.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the number of troops patrolling the line of control. In all our discussions, the main proposition has been for joint patrols of Indian and Pakistani troops. Given the dangers on the line of control, its length and the terrain, that is effectively the only candidate for patrolling that difficult territory. If we were asked to provide military advisers, not infantry to patrol the line of control, of course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence would consider that but, as he has made clear on a number of occasions, no request has been made, still less have any decisions been taken.
The hon. Gentleman's last point was about the status of the United Nations Security Council resolutions passed in 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951. For the benefit of hon. Members, I shall arrange for those to be placed in the Library in a single form. It is worth while right hon. and hon. Members on both sides reading the original texts, because there are myths around them which are not sustained by the texts themselves. Suffice it to say that Pakistan believes that the Security Council resolutions should still be implemented; India says that the Simla agreement of 1972 superseded them. As for the British Government, we think that there is not a huge amount of point in getting involved in a historiographical exercise about which position is correct. We have to deal with the here and now and how we can best resolve the dispute,