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16 Jan 2008 : Column 295WH—continued

Rageh Omaar, whom many of us have seen on television, commented:

Of course, it is difficult to find an alternative to military Governments when there is a military dictatorship, not democracy.

Many of us in the House counted Benazir as a friend, and—I declare an interest—my chambers represented her for a while in legal proceedings. She
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moved between London and Dubai for all those years. Which of us can name any other democrats who have been able to rise up the Pakistani political system? Which of us can name more than a couple of leading members of the Pakistan Peoples Party? Of course, such people would not come forward while there was a system in which democrats were undermined and the military prevailed.

It got slightly worse than that, because there was always an incentive for the military to justify itself either in the campaigns in Kashmir or by defining Pakistan as what it was not—namely, India. If the military created enemies, it could justify its existence. William Dalrymple put it this way:

I do not think that anyone who has been involved in foreign policy in the past 20 years will be unaware of the many times we have received representations from the Indian Government about armed groups from Pakistan being sent into Kashmir and elsewhere for Pakistan’s own purposes. That monster has now turned on Pakistan. The only way in which we will make long-term progress in Pakistan is through a fundamental, resolute and complete return to democracy. We have tried the ends justifying the means for a decade now, and it has not worked.

I accept that other hon. Members will fundamentally disagree with my next point. I do not believe that the international community and the Government of Pakistan will win over the people of the North-West Frontier Province and tribal areas by creating the impression that those people are the enemies of civilisation. I was introduced to the North-West Frontier Province in maths lessons at the age of 11. My maths master was Brigadier Picton, whose great-grandfather had commanded the artillery at Waterloo, and Picton himself had commanded a brigade on the north-west frontier. He brought trigonometry very much to life for me by using fire plans for tribal villages, which, I suspect, were somewhere near Peshawar.

I was also taught that the British empire, at the height of its strength, had not succeeded in bringing the north-west frontier province under its control. Indeed, as hon. Members know, all that we sought to do during the whole time that we occupied India, which then included Pakistan, was to keep the road from Peshawar, through Landi Kotal and on to Kandahar, open, and we were helped in that operation by the Khyber Rifles. When one makes that journey, as I am sure that the Minister and many other hon. Members have done, one sees the signs listing the regiments that have sought to keep the road and the railway line open. To be honest, the tribal regions have managed extremely well on that basis.

Of course, I appreciate that the arrival of Taliban elements and training camps has introduced a new dimension, but giving the impression that the whole region has somehow been taken over by the Taliban
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and other terrorists does not help. What Pakistan needs is a war on poverty, because as India progresses, Pakistan is going backwards. Rates of illiteracy are also increasing, which means that we have the most terrifying of all faltering states—an increasingly illiterate nuclear power.

My plea this afternoon is very simple. We should do everything that we can through Parliament, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other means to promote democracy in Pakistan. If things get difficult in Pakistan, we should not suggest to Musharraf that the army is the only body that can sort things out or that we will continue to give it support, comfort, succour and funding. The United States has pursued that practice over the past 20 years, while we have rather been sitting on our hands, but it has failed. We now need robust democracy, the rule of law and the encouragement of an independent judiciary and an independent media—the sorts of practice that other parts of the region take as the norm. Only in that way will we defeat terrorism in the longer term.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East made some perfectly good points regarding concerns about terrorism in the UK. However, we all need to reflect on the fact that some of the suicide bombers in the UK were born and brought up here—it is not simply a matter of terrorism being imported from overseas. Those who perpetrated the 9/11 atrocities were middle-class and, in particular, affluent young Saudis, so this is not just a matter of poverty. I have a not insignificant Kashmiri community in my constituency. When I visit the mosque or talk to members of that community, I find, as I am sure that other colleagues do, that they are as horrified by the practices that we are discussing as anyone else; they want a peaceful life and to bring up their children here. They also want people in the areas of Pakistan from which their fathers and grandfathers came to have a peaceful life. The issues before us are therefore quite complex.

We will not make progress in Pakistan, however, until the rule of democracy starts to prevail and we see democrats with whom we can interact and engage a dialogue, and whom we can encourage. The longer Pakistan remains a military state under the rule of the army, and the longer it is effectively controlled by the army, the ISI and other groups, the more difficult it will be to resolve the issues to which my hon. Friend has rightly drawn our attention.

3.15 pm

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) on securing this timely debate. He opened it in a thorough and well-informed way and he obviously has some experience of the issues. Not only does he come from a military background, but he has had personal experience of tragedy, given that terrorism has touched the lives of his family, which is particularly poignant and a sober reminder to us all of the gravity of the issue.

We are at a critical point in the history of Pakistan, and events are unfolding quickly. Not long ago, there was talk of the political end game being in sight in the form of a possible power-sharing deal between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf. Now, sadly, we are
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looking to the future with greater uncertainty. In just the past four months, we have seen the return from exile of Ms Bhutto, the imposing and then lifting of a state of emergency, the swearing-in of Mr. Musharraf as a civilian President, the seismic events around Ms Bhutto’s assassination and the postponement of the parliamentary elections until February. Today’s debate is therefore taking place on shifting ground, and things will remain turbulent for some time to come. Nevertheless, we must continue to discuss and scrutinise Government policy as we pursue the goal of a democratic and stable Pakistan.

I want to pick up various issues. One is the importance of holding free and fair elections in Pakistan next month. Another is the investigation that is taking place into the death of Benazir Bhutto. I also want to discuss development aid and the training of terrorists in Pakistan, some of whom may be UK citizens, as well as longer-term issues, such as development and good governance.

I am sure that all hon. Members were horrified to hear the news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on 27 December, while the House was on its Christmas break. My personal thought was that it was just a few months ago, in the autumn, that Benazir Bhutto held a meeting in one of Glasgow’s hotels, to which various elected representatives and leaders from the city’s Muslim community had been invited. I, too, attended that event and I remember listening to Ms Bhutto’s eloquent and confident speech, which had a real note of optimism and hope. At that point, she had not yet gone back to Pakistan, and there was no certainty that she would do so. Listening to her comments, however, I felt that we could be optimistic about the future if things were made to work in that troubled country. It is very shocking to go from attending a civilised and interesting meeting in a Glasgow hotel to seeing on the news just a few short months later the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

There is clearly uncertainty about the facts of Ms Bhutto’s death. One report says that there was a suicide bomber, while another says that there was a gunman, and we even had the strange story about the sunroof. That uncertainty is obviously causing huge concern in Pakistan at this politically sensitive time, and there is suspicion about whether the facts are being covered up. Understandably, Ms Bhutto’s husband requested that there should be no post-mortem, but that has not helped the situation, and the hosing-down of the scene just an hour and a half after the attack has certainly not helped to allay suspicions. It is therefore welcome that a team from Scotland Yard is in Pakistan to assist with the investigation. Given the sensitivity of the issue and the need to get the facts straight, however, it is not only the quality of the investigation that is important, although the Scotland Yard detectives will certainly be invaluable in that respect, but also the perception of the investigation; it must be seen to be independent. There are wide calls for a UN investigation into the death of Benazir Bhutto, which would help to give that perception of independence and to give the people of Pakistan some confidence that the real causes will be investigated and not covered up. There is a precedent in the investigation into the death of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon in 2004. I shall be interested to know whether the Minister will indicate Government support for such a UN investigation, and whether we might press for it internationally.

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The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) highlighted the importance of “democracy, democracy and democracy” and obviously the most important and pressing issue for the UK is to do everything possible to ensure that the elections next month are free and fair. The short delay in holding the elections is welcome and inevitable. If such events took place in the UK shortly before a general election was scheduled, there would no doubt be a similar delay. Such a postponement is certainly fair enough in a democracy. We can still hope for stable parliamentary elections, which could result in a peaceful and fair result, and a step forward for the country, but the EU monitoring mission will be crucial in ensuring that the elections are conducted properly.

On 7 January the Foreign Secretary was positive about the number of election monitors who would be going to Pakistan. At the time he may not have had the exact numbers to hand; he said that there might be an increase, up to about 100. Can the Minister give us an update on how many monitors will go from the EU, and what Britain will do to ensure that we support and resource additional monitors, who will surely be needed in the current circumstances of heightened tension?

Musharraf’s suspension and firing of key judges was clearly a great blow to the country’s institutions. Because the judiciary has been put in place by Musharraf, it will be a struggle to see the elections as free and fair. I hope that the Government will push Musharraf to reinstate the members of the judiciary who were suspended or fired, so that the rest of the country can be confident that an independent judiciary will be scrutinising the parliamentary elections. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what representations the Government made in November when Musharraf decided to suspend or fire judges, which was clearly a bad omen of what was to come.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East spoke well about training camps, which are indeed a real problem in the country, but he was also right to talk about tackling the problem at home. Indeed, he said that, until 2005, we were in denial about the fact that there were British citizens, born, bred and educated in the UK, and immersed in our society, who could do such unspeakable and horrific things. That is something the country needs to grapple with; we need programmes and initiatives to reach out to people who may be disaffected and vulnerable to the types of extremist rhetoric that can lead people down that path.

We need to look, from an intelligence point of view, at the traffic of people between Britain and Pakistan. Obviously, hundreds of thousands of British citizens of Pakistani origin live in the UK, and as a result many—415,000, I think—go back to Pakistan each year. Only a small minority of them will be lured into the training camps, but it is necessary for the intelligence services to focus on that small minority, so that procedures can be established to halt anything that they may plan.

The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) pointed out that the people concerned are a small minority and that there is great anger in the Muslim community—that is certainly so in my constituency, and in others too. There is a feeling that the peaceful religion of Islam is being hijacked by people of extreme
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political views, spouting a version that bears no resemblance to the religion peacefully followed by Muslims in Britain.

There are a variety of Government initiatives, including, in the past, 10-point plans, to tackle home-grown terrorism. Changing the mindset of British citizens who do not feel loyalty to our country’s values must be a priority. I hope that the Minister can report back on the success so far of the initiatives and on the lessons learned about what does not work, and what will be changed as a result.

To turn to the question of what can be done in Pakistan, the hon. Member for Banbury was right to focus on poverty and deprivation. We know that both are great breeding grounds for terrorism, and the hon. Gentleman clearly has great knowledge of the country. That is certainly a key to getting to grips with the issue. Pakistan has been a key ally in the war on terror, but the development support that we give is crucial to success. The human development of Pakistan is a long-term policy for making the world a safer place: improving education and reducing poverty will also reduce extremism and even, we hope, stabilise the North-West Frontier Province, where there is the most intense problem with terrorism and al-Qaeda. Of course, reducing conflict and instability there will have a knock-on effect on stability in Afghanistan, where we also have a particular interest, given the presence of our troops. Education must be the cornerstone of the work, especially in stopping people going to madrassahs. I should be interested to know whether the Government have any plans to assist with the expansion of state education in Pakistan, which is not available in many parts of the country. Obviously, when there is no state education, there is a void into which others, who may want to indoctrinate young people, can step.

It is obviously important that Pakistan should have strong political and legal institutions. Those have certainly been undermined by the Musharraf regime; corruption is rife and, as we have said, members of the judiciary have been suspended. I should be interested to know what the Government are doing to build up those institutions, to help democracy gain a foothold in Pakistan. Free and fair elections will produce stable government only with the back-up of solid institutions, particularly in the longer term. Similarly, there is a need for links with political parties, civil society and even the military, to create the political leverage to get people round a table, working together.

I should like to know how critical the Government may have been, in private, of Musharraf. Sometimes they have been seen not to be as critical as one might like, particularly in cases such as the suspension of members of the judiciary. Although Pakistan has been an ally in the so-called war on terror, if that comes at the expense of our ability strongly to condemn actions likely to destabilise the country, the result will be only to fan the flames of terrorism, which is contrary to the objective.

I have one further concern to flag up with the Minister. News reports of the US response to the situation in Pakistan suggested that CIA activity on the borders has been intensifying, possibly with a view to unilateral US action there. I hope that the Minister will be firm in condemning any such suggestion of unilateral action. We need to learn from previous
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mistakes in foreign policy and to act as a coherent international community through proper international institutions. I hope that the UK will strongly counsel the US against any such action and will in no circumstances support it.

In conclusion, there is clearly a volatile and dangerous situation in Pakistan. Given the links to terrorist training camps and organisations in that country, there could be an impact on security in the UK and globally. Free and fair elections are vital to unlocking the problem, and for the sake of the confidence of people in Pakistan the death of Benazir Bhutto must be properly investigated; I argue for a UN investigation. Here at home, the UK must intensify action to prevent home-grown terrorism; and abroad it must consider development aid and support for Pakistani democratic, judicial and educational institutions. Perhaps we shall be able to look forward in hope to peaceful elections on 18 February, and a step forward for democracy in Pakistan. The Government must obviously use every effort to influence the various stakeholders internationally to achieve that outcome. It will no doubt be a long process, and I am sure that the House will return to the issue before long.

3.49 pm

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) on securing the debate. Obviously, he has a tragic personal interest in the matter, but he has travelled widely in the area and speaks with a great deal of authority on it. May I also confirm that you, Mr. Cummings, are an early riser and a member of the parliamentary breakfast club, which is the most influential parliamentary organisation after the Whips and in which reputations are made and frequently destroyed?

The subject of the debate is absolutely crucial and serious. We should first consider it in terms of the narrow aspects of Pakistani politics—on which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) focused—and our desire to move Pakistan towards democracy and, at least, a civilian Government. However, that alone will not necessarily be the answer, and it will not be the kind of pure democracy that we associate with the United States, ourselves and the European Union, but it will be a step in the right direction.

Secondly, what happens in Pakistan has an immediate knock-on effect on what happens in Afghanistan, where we have a substantial military commitment and members of our armed forces are, sadly, dying—perhaps even as we speak. It also has a blowback effect in the UK and Europe. I take the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East made about the interview with the head of the US Department of Homeland Security yesterday, in which he said that the major terrorist threat now facing the US comes from Europe. He added, in parenthesis, that the threat was not home-grown, in the sense of being traditional, but was deeply connected with the middle east and elsewhere.

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