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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am sorry, I must remind your Lordships that we are acutely short of time in this debate. Noble Lords must try to keep inside their time limit.

8 p.m.

Lord Evans of Watford: My Lords, much of my prepared speech has already been covered by other noble Lords. I shall not, therefore, detain the House with unnecessary repetition. I also had the privilege of visiting Azad Kashmir a few weeks ago. On my visit I was impressed, I was shocked and I was deeply moved.

I was impressed by the dignity and friendliness of the people. They are very pro-British and look to us to help them. After all, we were very much involved in the root causes of the dispute, when a mainly Moslem state was handed to a Hindu democracy. We certainly, therefore, have to bear our share of the responsibility.

I was shocked to see the absolute poverty and the very sad conditions in the refugee camps. As a grandfather of three young children, I was deeply moved to see the state of their poor children. I wonder what future they can look forward to, and this, of course, is partly up to us. I have the feeling that things will get worse before they get better, but I hope that time will prove me wrong.

The recent testing of intermediate ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads is obviously a major cause for concern, not just for India and Pakistan but for the whole world. It seems to me that we are facing the real threat of a nuclear holocaust, and I call upon the Government to put the greatest pressure possible on both India and Pakistan to meet to resolve their differences peaceably.

I was also very encouraged to read the Prime Minister's words last week, talking about Kosovo, when he said:

I support the Kashmiri people's right of self-determination in accordance with the United Nations resolution and I hope that they are successful in their negotiations. That said, in reality I believe the United States Government have the greatest chance of persuading India and Pakistan to resolve their differences. I urge Her Majesty's Government to do all that they can to help.

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8.2 p.m.

The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, we should base ourselves on the proposition that there can be no good relations between India and Pakistan until and unless there is a fair and equitable solution to the problems of Kashmir. The Government and the Foreign Secretary have stated many, many times their commitment to a moral and ethical foreign policy. I therefore urge the Minister that the Foreign Office and the Government should make forthwith a strong and effective commitment to an equitable solution for Kashmir, which, unlike Kosovo, is an area where Britain has both a moral responsibility and strong historic links.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I fully understand what the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and his noble friends Lord Clarke and Lord Evans have pointed to--that is, their great concern about the continuing war in Kashmir, which when the spring comes tends to become worse as the snows melt from the Himalayas and it becomes easier to continue warfare.

I also recognise that there is a good deal in what they say about some of the human rights violations. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Paul, and others have said, it is also important to recognise that the accusations are made both ways and that there is some reason to believe that there has been support by the Pakistani intelligence services for the training of guerrillas who subsequently infiltrate into the Indian part of Kashmir, with some considerable suffering and victimisation of Hindu civilians.

I would not wish to make some Solomon-like judgment in a situation with which we are all too familiar--that is, Northern Ireland and now Kosovo--a situation of mutual hatreds, of historical vicious circles and of the great difficulty of trying to reach a mutual agreement.

It is of course true that the testing of weapons by both Pakistan and India has made the dangers of a mistake over Kashmir much more serious than they would otherwise have been. But, like many who have spoken, I take great comfort from the coming together at last of the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and of India. The fact that they have been able to meet, that they issued the Lahore Declaration, that they have established a bus line between them, that India has now entered into a contract for natural gas supplies from Pakistan, that there is now a discussion about other ways in which to ease their relations and, as my noble friend Lord Avebury pointed out, the very important fact that each gave advance notice to the other of a missile test are all signs of growing maturity and growing tolerance between the two nations.

My personal view is that it would not be helpful for Britain to try to intervene and suggest that it should be an arbiter. Some will remember the early visit by the Foreign Secretary to India, where just such an approach was strongly repudiated. I doubt whether repeating it would be much more successful.

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I believe that as a country we should give every possible support to the establishment of better bilateral relations. We should indicate our willingness to help in any way we can the economic recovery of Kashmir. We should do our very best to encourage both countries to sign the nuclear test covenants, which would assist us in de-escalating the tension that exists today. Here I refer particularly to the comprehensive nuclear test ban. I notice that only today Prime Minister Primakov of Russia has strongly advocated to Pakistan and India that they should sign the nuclear test ban treaty. I believe that that is the way in which we should help and encourage them both. I do not believe that our intervention in the bilateral talks now well established would be helpful to either country or in the end to the cause of peace in Kashmir.

8.6 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, on initiating this important debate--important and timely for several reasons, not least as the two countries in question cover one-fifth of the world's population, with approximately 1.5 billion people.

I fully support the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998 are one of the defining events of what is still called the post-Cold-War era. The weakening of the non-proliferation regime, the humiliation of America's vast intelligence gathering machinery, the intensification of geopolitical rivalry in Asia and the risk of destabilising, copycat effects from the Middle East to the northern Pacific are all major consequences, either actual or potential, of India and Pakistan's nuclear "outing".

What can we do to establish a stable nuclear deterrent relationship between India and Pakistan, with particular emphasis on the role which the outside world can play in producing the least malign outcome in this respect? The issue is of major importance, as an unstable nuclear relationship could lead to a catastrophic nuclear conflict.

In the short time available I will confine my few words to India and Pakistan and not go into the future nuclear relationship of India and China. This is a deliberate choice. In a negative sense, this choice does not imply that China's nuclear policy has no bearing on India's policies; indeed, one of the major impediments to a stable deterrent relationship between India and Pakistan is involved here. To alleviate the current state of tension, we need to assess their future nuclear relationship.

India and Pakistan are not nuclear newcomers. In 1974 New Delhi detonated a nuclear fission device nearly the size of the Hiroshima bomb. This was the product of distinguished research in nuclear affairs by India since the 1940s, to which China's nuclear blast of 1964 gave a major impetus.

As a young parliamentarian in 1964, Vajpayee, India's Prime Minister, claimed that,

    "The answer to an atom bomb is an atom bomb, nothing else". India's first Prime Minister, Nehru, stated in 1946, before independence:

    "I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes ... But if India is threatened, she will inevitably try to

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    defend herself by all means at her disposal". As for Pakistan, its excursions into the nuclear realm appear to have begun in earnest immediately after its defeat in the war with India in 1970-71 and to have accelerated strongly following India's 1974 test.

As far back as 1967, Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's future Prime Minister, wrote:

    "If Pakistan restricts ... her nuclear programme, it would ... enable India to blackmail Pakistan with her nuclear technology".

The simmering conflict in Kashmir cannot be forgotten. It is to some degree reassuring that a major inadvertent escalation has not occurred. The first and not least important step that we should recognise is that solutions must be found by India and Pakistan themselves. Hectoring and lecturing, particularly from the established nuclear-weapon states, will be counter-productive, as they are all well equipped intellectually to understand the challenges. Overt pressure to renounce their capability would backfire. Sanctions will not lead either country to abandon its capability and would have a disproportionate effect on the poor.

I seek assurances from the Minister this evening that Her Majesty's Government will look at positive measures whereby we could play a part in diffusing the tension in Kashmir and, on the economic front, I urge them not to support sanctions and not to veto World Bank or IMF credits.

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Ahmed for raising this subject. It is of great interest to many people in the United Kingdom and, as we have seen this evening, it raises a number of passionately held views.

Links between the United Kingdom and India and Pakistan are deep-rooted and long-standing. They are embedded in the fabric of British society today, through trade and development and through the close personal ties which nearly 2 million Britons have with the sub-continent. As my noble friend Lord Paul said, they have very strong views about the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan.

The origins of the tensions between India and Pakistan can be traced back to the time of independence in 1947. There have been three wars between India and Pakistan--in 1948, 1965 and 1971--all of which, to a greater or lesser extent, have been about Kashmir.

In 1947, Kashmir was a princely state. It was up to such states to determine whether they should accede to India or Pakistan. By the time of the British withdrawal, the Maharajah of Kashmir had yet to make his decision. Faced with an uprising in his western territories, he acceded to India, an action which has remained controversial to this day. Indian forces were sent to assist him, but fighting soon widened into a more general war between India and Pakistan. The United Nations arranged a ceasefire, dividing the state along what is approximately the current line of control. I wish to return to the points made about that by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in a few moments. Subsequently, Jammu and Kashmir was provided with an exceptional degree of autonomy under Article 370 of the constitution.

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However, in 1989 violent unrest broke out in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Large numbers of Indian security forces were sent to restore order. The local government was removed. Human rights abuses occurred. The state remained under central rule until the Indian Government held state elections in 1996 and a national conference government, under Farooq Abdullah, took power. However, militancy still continues in the state.

Against that history of conflict and tension, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, we have welcomed the resumption of talks last year between India and Pakistan on the issues between them, including Kashmir. The talks in Lahore between the Prime Ministers, Sharif and Vajpayee, were significant, as my noble friend Lord Paul pointed out. That was the first time that an Indian Prime Minister had visited Pakistan in ten years, travelling on the inaugural bus service from Delhi to Lahore.

The launching of the bus service is one of the welcome confidence-building measures that has been seen in recent months, as was the Test cricket series held in India in February.

There are measures that we have welcomed, and they should not be overlooked. They may seem relatively trivial but they are important in those confidence-building measures. Any measure which creates that confidence and warmth between India and Pakistan can only be of benefit to both countries and the region as a whole, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby pointed out.

Hence, we have welcomed the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers' joint statement issued last month reiterating the importance of the Lahore Declaration and agreeing to build upon it, through meetings of experts, for implementation of the declaration.

My noble friend Lord Ahmed raised specific points about family visits, promoting meaningful dialogue and trade. We welcome any action by India and Pakistan which eases the contacts between their peoples. The Prime Ministers, at Lahore, agreed that the two sides would hold consultations with a view to liberalising the visa and travel regimes and reaffirmed their commitment to the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation as a means of accelerating growth, social progress and cultural development--all very important points.

We hope that the next Indian government will take forward the bilateral dialogue and that further talks on topics discussed last November will indeed be held, as was declared in the joint statement. As my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead said, good relations between India and Pakistan are important not only for themselves but for regional stability. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, we hope that both countries can maintain the recent dialogue and build on the meeting in Lahore in relation to a number of different bilateral issues.

Of course, Kashmir is one of the longest-running disputes in the world. There is still no resolution after 50 years. The continuing conflict between militants and the Indian security forces affects individual, ordinary Kashmiris. Many have died and many have been forced

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to leave their homes. There has been serious violence and human rights violations. Sadly, those continue today.

We remain deeply concerned about the situation there. We condemn acts of terrorism and abuses of human rights that bring suffering to the people. We also call for an end to all external support for any violence in Kashmir. My right honourable friend Derek Fatchett raised human rights issues with the Indian Home Minister, Mr L. K. Advani, in November last year and urged in particular an improvement in the human rights situation in Kashmir. The Indian authorities can be in no doubt about our commitment to human rights. We shall also continue to impress upon them the importance of bringing wrongdoers to justice and the benefits of greater transparency in investigating abuses.

Against that background, we have welcomed the steps taken by the Indian Government in recent years to address human rights concerns. One step forward was the establishment of a national human rights commission in 1993. We have welcomed also the decision by many states, including Jammu and Kashmir, to form their own human rights commissions, another very important point.

I assure my noble friend Lord Ahmed that we shall also continue to urge the Indian authorities to allow more visits by international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the United Nations rapporteurs to India. Officials from our High Commission in Delhi visit Kashmir regularly and returned just last week from their most recent visit.

Regarding a further point raised by my noble friend, it is, we believe, for India to determine its own legislation in the face of continuing violence from militant groups. We welcome the decision by the Indian authorities to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons in Jammu and Kashmir, another very important point, as I hope your Lordships will agree.

We have long urged both countries to find a just and lasting solution, acceptable to the population of Kashmir on both sides of the line of control, and we shall continue to do so. As my noble friend mentioned, any solution, if it is to last, must involve and reflect the view of the people living in Kashmir.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised important points about the line of control. I understand that the noble Lord has put ideas on demilitarising the line of control to the UN Secretary-General. We support the aim of making the line of control safer for ordinary people and hope that, through the bilateral process under way in India and Pakistan, some progress will be made in that regard.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, also raised the question of attacks on religious minorities. I hope that the noble Viscount will be reassured by the fact that we have made clear to both India and Pakistan that we are concerned about the recent attacks on religious minorities. India has high world standing for its respect for religious diversity. We trust that the actions announced by the Indian Government will bring the

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1102

attackers to justice and prevent further attacks. The Foreign Secretary and Mr. Fatchett have both raised the issue at a very high level with their interlocutors.

The Pakistani constitution protects the rights of religious minorities, but reports of persecution by groups of individuals persist. In February my right honourable friend Mr. Fatchett urged the Minister of Law in Pakistan to ensure that the laws protecting minorities would be fully implemented.

A number of your Lordships have raised questions about missile testing, notably my noble friend Lord Ahmed and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. We regret that India and Pakistan have chosen to conduct missile tests. We continue to believe that developing nuclear weapons and missiles systems is not in the interests of India or Pakistan. We urge both India and Pakistan to adhere unconditionally to the relevant non-proliferation regimes and not to deploy nuclear weapons or delivery systems. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said on these points. We need the two countries to continue to build trust and confidence. To do that they have to tackle the root causes of the tension that lies between them.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lord Evans of Watford dwelt largely on the issues concerning poverty and aid. We have substantial development assistance programmes for poverty reduction in both India and Pakistan. In India we are spending about £100 million this year supporting programmes in education, health, water, sanitation, energy, urban poverty and rural development. In Pakistan we are spending about £20 million this year, directed primarily at improving basic social services such as education, health, reproductive health, water supplies and sanitation. Much of this aid effort will be aimed at women and girls.

From the diversity of contributions that we have had in your Lordships' House this evening we can see that there are no magic solutions to the issues which divide India and Pakistan. We applaud the personal commitments made by the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers to intensify efforts to resolve bilateral issues, including the difficult issue of Kashmir. It is important that both countries work to capitalise on Lahore and to make substantive progress on the issues between them. As my noble friend Lord Paul so wisely pointed out, after all, they are mature democracies. I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, that the governments of both countries are well aware that we remain willing to help, but any offer of help, whether from the United Kingdom or others, must be acceptable to both countries if it is to have any chance of success. In that respect I agree very strongly with the point put forward by my noble friend Lady Uddin in a short but very telling address to your Lordships.

We wish India and Pakistan success in their search for solutions to this and other bilateral issues. We hope that they can build on the meeting in Lahore and that they will maintain the momentum to reach a just and lasting solution.

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