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Pakistan (Commonwealth Membership)

Volume 827: debated on Tuesday 30 November 1971

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asked the Prime Minister if he will now seek to invite to a special meeting the heads of all Commonwealth countries other than Pakistan, with a view to expelling Pakistan from the Commonwealth and to the Commonwealth recognising Bangla Desh as a free and sovereign State.

No, Sir. Other Commonwealth Governments share our concern about the consequences of the situation in East Pakistan, but a meeting on the terms proposed by the hon. Member would contribute nothing towards a resolution of this grave problem.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the present fighting is born of the Indian Government's despair at the failure of the world Powers to take positive action? Is it not time for the Government to give a lead to the world Powers in this direction? Does not the Prime Minister realise that the independence of Bangla Desh is now inevitable and that, therefore, self-interest comes in line with the moral imperative to take this initiative?

As I understand it, the Indian Government have no desire that any action should be taken in the United Nations or elsewhere. What is more, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth took an initiative with both countries and it was rejected.

I do not know about Bangla Desh, but is not a Question like this absolute balderdash? Should not the Commonwealth be trying to get together to resolve this matter with Pakistan rather than kicking Pakistan out of the Commonwealth?

Many members of the Commonwealth have been in direct contact both with Mrs. Ghandi and with President Yahya, and we have all been endeavouring to find a way of resolving these difficulties. I am sure that is the best way of going about it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman prod his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to get the United Nations to have another go? There seems to be a reluctance to touch the United Nations, as though one would get an electric shock from doing so.

We have encouraged various United Nations activities at different times during this trouble, particularly those concerning the refugees. On the other hand, it is perfectly legitimate to hold the view, as many countries do, including the two countries concerned, that to have a discussion about this problem in the Security Council would not be a way of resolving tension but might indeed increase it.

Did not the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) say, in effect, that India's patience is exhausted? Is this the proper attitude for any Commonwealth country to take? Is it not also the case that there is no procedure for expulsion from the Commonwealth, and that in East Pakistan there is no separate sovereign State satisfying any of the criteria for international recognition?

I agree with my hon. Friend on the latter part of his supplementary question. We must recognise the great social stresses and strains which are produced by nine million refugees in India. The Prime Minister of India has undoubtedly stood firmly against pressures to try to seek a solution of these problems by force.

Since the United Nations has difficulties in considering this matter, does not the Prime Minister think that the Commonwealth could be a useful forum in which to discuss the great problems caused by civil war between Pakistan and East Bengal? Does not he also think that the Commonwealth Declaration, which was signed by all Commonwealth Governments in January this year, should be applied to East Bengal, as indeed in every Commonwealth country?

I should not like to give a view about the last part of the question. I did not exclude action by Commonwealth countries. That is going on all the time. What I said was that I did not think that a formal meeting of the Commonwealth would be the best way to solve these difficulties. Individual heads of Governments of Commonwealth countries are in touch with me, and many of us are in touch with both the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan.