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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): As I said in my statement to the House on 10 June, the dispute between India and Pakistan is at root a bilateral matter, which can be resolved only by direct dialogue between the parties. However, it is also a dispute with potent international implications. Intense diplomatic efforts by the United Kingdom and the United States, and the steps taken in recent days by the Governments of India and Pakistan to ease tension give grounds for some optimism. None the less, with 1 million men under arms on either side of the line of control in a high state of readiness, the risks of a conflict remain significant.
Mr. Luff: The Foreign Secretary rightly emphasised the contribution that the international community can make. What are the Government doing to help move Pakistan towards democracy, enable international observers to monitor the situation, and, perhaps above all,
Mr. Straw: I welcomed the decision of the supreme court of Pakistan that the assumption of power by President Musharraf was legitimate provided that there was a clear pathway to resuming elections by October this year. I also welcome the steps that President Musharraf has taken towards that end; he has kept to the staging posts. We shall do everything that we can to assist Pakistan. We have no reason to believe that monitors will not be admitted to that country.
I also welcome the fact that the chief election officer for the whole union of India said that foreign observers would be free to visit Jammu and Kashmir to monitor elections there. He said that they would not be officially invited to do that and that they would have to make their own arrangements, but that they would be allowed access to polling stations. He also said that both the national and international media would have free access to polling stations in Jammu and Kashmir. He stated:
Mr. Straw: The undertakings given by the Government of Pakistan, and the corresponding diplomatic and military moves made by the Government of India, are a matter of constant discussion between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of those two countries. I last discussed the issue with Jaswant Singh, the Indian Foreign Minister, in a phone call yesterday. The tension would not have reduced had there not been a significant reduction of infiltration across the line of control. The international community obviously looks to President Musharraf fully to meet the undertakings that he has given on further bearing down on the terrorist groups and, in due course, closing the camps. Detailed undertakings were given to Richard Armitage, the United States Deputy Secretary of State, and there will be a great expectation that they will be met.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): A recent US Government report stated that the greatest risk of nuclear conflict between the two powers would occur if field commanders on the ground used nuclear weapons without reference to their commanders-in-chief or their Governments. Do the British Government agree with that assessment? What, if anything, can the international community do to address that specific danger?
Mr. Straw: I have not heard that particular anxiety expressed. We have worked on the assumption that, were nuclear weaponsappallinglyto be used by either side, it would be only at the behest and decision of the central Governments and leaders concerned. None the less, we
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): The whole House will welcome the easing of tension between India and Pakistan, and the efforts undertaken by my right hon. Friend. When does he intend to restore the entry clearance operation in Islamabad, Karachi, Mumbai and New Delhi to its full operational strength?
Mr. Straw: We keep the issues of travel advice and the visa operation under close review. We have to make different decisions for each of the two countries, because, although they are both parties to the same conflict over Kashmir, I am afraid that the security situation in Pakistan is significantly different from and worse than that in India, because of the terrorist actions that have already taken place against western diplomats, and other threats. We have, however, already restored something of a service. I am fully aware of the difficulties involved, because I, too, have many Indian and Pakistani constituents, and we are working hardparticularly in respect of Indiato get back to as near normal a service as we can. So far as Pakistan is concerned, that will take longer.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) has hit the nail on the head, in that, when tension over Kashmir was recently at its height, the real concern was that there appeared to be no established nuclear doctrine, such as there used to be between east and west during the cold war. I know that the Secretary of State has just referred to this issue, but could he expand a little further on what steps can now be taken to ensure that such a doctrine can be established, through both diplomatic and military channels, so that whenever there is a risk of tension rising again, there will be proper safeguards to ensure that the risk can be minimised and that the situation can be reacted to in the most responsible manner?
Mr. Straw: One small silver lining that may already have emerged from this conflict is the greater realisation by the Governments of India and Pakistan of the huge international anxiety about the potential of nuclear conflict, and of the fact that the effects of nuclear conflict in India and Pakistan would in no sense be confined to the narrow theatre of war, but would spread across the whole sub-continent and turn the leader or leaders who unleashed the nuclear weapons, and their countries, into international pariahs for generations to come.
As to discussions, within the limitations set by our own non-proliferation and other treaty obligations, which we take very seriously, we will of course do our best to offer such advice as the Governments of India and Pakistan think appropriateas, I believe, will other appropriate members of the international community.
Mr. Straw: The difference is that we are signatories to a range of international treaties on the control of nuclear weapons, but neither India nor Pakistan is. I understand my hon. Friend's point, but I do not personally believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom[Hon. Members: "You used to."] Yes I did, and I do not. I went on the Aldermaston march when I was 12, and I think that I am entitled to change my view between the ages of 12 and 55. Indeed, I was nearer to 12 than to 55 when I changed it.
Although I do not subscribe to my hon. Friend's view, I do believe that a first staging post in making the world safer would be for Pakistan and India both to sign up to the non-proliferation treaties.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Our embassy in Muscat has made at least 12 representations to the Omani Government concerning Mr. Lincoln Brown since November 2000. The embassy was instrumental in restoring Mr. Lincoln Brown's right of appeal in December 2001. Although this case is essentially a private legal matter and we cannot interfere in another country's judicial process, we will continue to provide Mr. Lincoln Brown with all the assistance that we properly can.
Mr. Cameron: I am very grateful for that answer. Is the Minister aware that Mr. Lincoln Brown has been stuck in Oman for some 19 months? Could the Minister press the Omani authorities to ensure that Mr. Lincoln Brown is allowed to appeal in the normal way, and that his complaint to the director of public prosecutions in Oman about the manner of his treatment can be dealt with in the normal way? Will the Minister also give me an assurance that the friendly relations that we rightly have with that country will not get in the way of making robust representations on my constituent's behalf?
Mr. O'Brien: We have already made robust representations, and I have given the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we will continue to do so. We have always taken Mr. Lincoln Brown's case very seriously, and we will continue to do so and to help him. Work on his case has amounted to more than 50 per cent. of the total time dedicated to individual British nationals in Oman. I shall certainly consider both the points that the hon. Gentleman raises, and if he is happy for me to do so I shall write to him about when and how we can make the representations that he considers necessary.