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India And Kashmir

Volume 177: debated on Monday 23 July 1990

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3.40 am

I, too, offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad) on his appointment as Government Deputy Chief Whip. I wish him well and I know that he will do well in his job.

I wish today to highlight some of the problems which confront Kashmir in its struggle to attain the right to self-government. I do so in the sincere hope that, by highlighting the situation and drawing attention to the plight of the Kashmiri people, I shall persuade the Government to bring additional pressure to bear on those currently abusing the Kashmiris.

The problems facing Kashmir are not new. They stretch back to the 19th century, and in that troubled history Britain has not been blameless, having once sold the state to the autocratic maharajahs whose descendant in 1947 sought help from India when the people he governed began to ask for the right to rule themselves. As a result, India sent troops into Kashmir in October 1947 and they have remained there ever since.

At that time, Lord Mountbatten expressed the wish that as soon as law and order was restored the Kashmiris should have the right to self-determination. That sentiment was echoed by Mahatma Gandhi and by Mr. Nehru. By 1951, Mr. Nehru was still arguing that Kashmir should decide its own fate. He said:

"People seem to forget that Kashmir is not a commodity for sale or to be bartered. It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future."
By that time the Kashmiri question had already been taken to the United Nations. Three resolutions were passed acknowledging Kashmir's right to self-determination and in 1949 the promise was given that Kashmir's future would be decided

"through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite."
Unfortunately, the right of self-determination was interpreted as meaning the right to decide whether to join India or Pakistan rather than the right to opt for a third alternative, that of self-government.

Eventually a cease-fire was put into effect and Kashmir was divided, two thirds going to India and one third to Pakistan, but that did not resolve the Kashmiri problem. To quote Mr. Nehru again, this time as late as 1952, in a quote which highlighted the absence of that peaceful settlement that taking the matter to the United Nations was supposed to have achieved, he said:
"We have taken the issue to the United Nations and given our word for a peaceful solution. As a great nation we cannot go back on it. We have left the final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision."
However, India has never sought a decision from the people of Kashmir. Instead, she immediately set about regarding Kashmir as just another Indian state—and herein lies the root of the trouble that Kashmiris are experiencing today.

The people of Kashmir know that they have a right to national self-determination, they know that the United Nations upholds that right, yet whenever they have tried to express a desire to exercise that right they have been brutally and ferociously denied it by the Indian Government. India signed the universal declaration of human rights in 1949. Among other things, under article 3, that declaration guarantees that
"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person."
Article 5 states:
"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Article 9 states:
"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile."
Article 19 states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
In March 1990, a team of Indian Hindus visited Kashmir on a fact-finding mission which led them to collect evidence from a wide variety of sources, including eye witnesses, victims and Government officials. They reported back on indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests, unlawful searches, unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators and the fact that a curfew was imposed for months at a time, leading to the complete destruction of any semblance of ordinary life. The conclusion of the report given by the team, representing the committee for initiative on Kashmir, said that the

"Government's plan to check terrorism in Kashmir has in practice turned out to be an exercise directed against the vast masses of Kashmiri people who are being denied the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian constitution and those enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights to which the Indian Government is a signatory."
To date that report is the only one that has been published on human rights in Kashmir. However, there is more than ample evidence to suggest that human rights have been violated as the Kashmiris struggle for the right to determine their own future. If I could quote but a few instances, I am sure that the House would be horrified to discover the scale on which the universal declaration of human rights has been violated in Kashmir. Paramilitary troops fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators who were marching in protest against illegal searches and arrests. Official sources said that, after the incident, at least 60 people were dead. We know, and we have evidence to prove it, that the figure was nearer 200 dead. That incident violated articles 3, 5, 9 and 19 of the declaration.

When others took to the streets the next day to protest at the merciless killings, they too were fired upon, and unofficial sources claim that at least a further 100 people were found dead a breach of articles 3, 5 and 19. When local doctors sent four ambulances to collect the injured in Srinagar, where the incidents had taken place, paramilitary troops beat up the drivers so that they came back as patients. The troops inflicted that cruelty after denying the ambulance men the right to take the injured to hospital—an abuse of articles 3 and 5 of the declaration.

There have been reports of daily raids on property, assaults on peaceful demonstrators, indiscriminate arrests and reports that the security forces harass innocent citizens—an abuse of articles 3, 5, 9 and 19 of the declaration.

The common people appear to come off worst in this situation. There are reports of pregnant women and very ill people being turned away by the security forces who man the roads to the hospitals, but the height of cruelty was surely the reported incident in which paramilitary forces stopped a woman trying to take her sick child to hospital. They were reported as shouting at her, "Let the child die—there will be one less militant."

Those incidents are reminiscent of that dark period in our own history when ordinary men and women were treated as though they were of no consequence. The journalist, William Dalrymple, writing in The Spectator in June 1990, described the scene after troops had fired into a funeral procession in Srinagar. He said:
"The site of the massacre was still red with bloodstains, while all around were scattered pathetic piles of sandals, broken spectacles and women's headscarves, still lying where their owners fell."
That description bears an eerie resemblance to that of another massacre, as described by the radical writer, Bamford. He reported:

"All over the field were strewn caps, bonnets, hats, shawls and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress, lying where they had fallen … trampled, torn and bloody."
The difference between the two descriptions lies in the fact that Bamford was writing of Britain in 1819, following the massacre at Peterloo in which Government troops fired on innocent men, women and children, killing 11 and injuring several hundred. Even in those dark days, before ordinary men and women had a share in political power and, consequently, a say in their destinies, that incident was regarded as a violation of basic human rights. It went down in history as a sign that ordinary people needed a say in the government of their country if they were to have a life worth living—free from the oppression of a ruling class.

William Dalrymple was describing an almost identical scene in the modern, latter-day 20th century when the lessons of history and of man's inhumanity to man are supposed to have been learnt. He has described conditions in a country that has an overall area of 85,000 square miles and a population of about 10 million. That area is currently being denied the fundamental right of national self-determination. That is as blatant an injustice in the ever-shrinking world of the 20th century as the denial of the right of free political expression in St. Peter's field in Manchester in the early 19th century.

The Indian Government, despite all the reported evidence of cruelty and violation of basic human rights, and despite the overwhelming desire of the people of Kashmir to determine the course of their own destiny, seem to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Kashmiri people. They appear to have increased their lack of sympathy for that people's plight. That is demonstrated by the fact that India has imposed direct military rule on much of the state and set up a special court to deal with what the Indian Government describe as terrorists.

At the same time, however, popular movements in Kashmir are growing in number, cohesion and confidence. A climate of extreme tension is developing daily, but to what purpose and effect? Because of that heightened tension, defence spending in the area has increased, which must have an adverse effect on the local people. Many of them are living in dire poverty and could well benefit from that money being spent on programmes of development and social welfare that would alleviate the situation in which far too many are still dying as a result of hunger and malnutrition.

I am sure that the people of the western countries which give aid to India and Pakistan would far rather see that money spent on measures which would directly improve the lives of the people rather than run the risk of its being channelled into coping with defence measures than the build-up of tension in relation to Kashmir has created.

The Kashmiri question lies at the root of the hostility between India and Pakistan. We would like that aggression to end so that the ordinary citizens of both countries might reap the benefits of stability. To date, India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir. A third must be avoided at all costs, but that will not happen so long as India continues to adopt an imperialistic stand towards Kashmir. That approach is completely out of touch with modern thinking and does no credit to a country which claims to value the freedoms for which the post-war western world has fought.

It appears that some 500 people have died in the past six months as a result of their willingness to campaign for the right to self-determination. Thousands have been injured, arrested and tortured, and women have been raped by the law enforcement agents. Foreign journalists have been banned from the state and the local press is heavily censored. It is clear that the time has come to act, and to act fast.

I believe that it is the duty of every country which professes to honour the international agreements that it signs or witnesses to stand up and be counted when those agreements are violated, especially on the scale witnessed in present-day Kashmir. I believe that it is the duty of the British Government to uphold the Kashmiris' right to national self-determination and to censure any Government who blatantly deny that right.

I ask the Government to champion the cause of the innocent victims of latter-day imperialism in Kashmir by exerting pressure on the Government of India who are denying the Kashmiris the fundamental human right to decide their own future. I call upon the Government to act to enable the current misery experienced by the Kashmiris to be ended by embarrassing their oppressors at every opportunity until justice for Kashmir is achieved.

It is with regret, therefore, that I refer to the contents of a letter sent recently by the Foreign Secretary to one of my own constituents, himself a Kashmiri. The letter refers to the fact that no mention of granting the Kashmiris the right to self-government in an independent state has ever been made officially. It is with concern that I note that the right hon. Gentleman states:
"Tensions appear now to have eased a little".
As I have explained, tensions are rife and feelings about the right of national determination—meaning the right to self-government—are running high.

In those circumstances, we must support the people of Kashmir in their struggle to attain self-government and we must never become complacent, thinking that we can salve our consciences by saying that we have done our best and that the ultimate decision must rest with India and Pakistan. The ultimate decision must rest with the Kashmiri people, and it is our duty to help them to help themselves in a Government elected and run by the Kashmiris legislating in the interests of an independent Kashmiri state. I ask the British Government to do more to bring about the recognition of that fundamental right of the Kashmiri nation.

3.56 am

In contemplating the tragic situation in Kashmir, we must ask ourselves at the outset what role Britain can play in an issue that concerns two independent states with which we enjoy friendly relations as fellow members of the Commonwealth. Perhaps it is easier to say what role Britain cannot play. I do not believe that we can act as mediators. India utterly rejects the term "mediation" in relation to this matter, which is considered a wholly internal one; and Pakistan, for its part, believes that Kashmiris in that territory occupied by India should be allowed to choose their own future. Mediation is not a term that is necessarily helpful or appropriate from either point of view.

Nevertheless, Britain is unique in enjoying a special position because of the role that we have played in the history of the sub-continent. The fact is that the time of independence failed to secure a solution for Kashmir that could be workable in the long term. The last maharajah, Hari Singh, succumbed to pressure from Nehru and Mountbatten, opting for accession to India. That led only to a succession of conflicts and wars between India and Pakistan which solved nothing but provided an excuse for the plebiscite agreed by India at partition to be indefinitely deferred. Not for nothing did President Ghulam Ishaq Khan of Pakistan refer recently to

"the unfinished agenda of partition."
The state of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir—undoubtedly one of the loveliest parts of the world—can only be described as dire. Those who have visited Jammu and Kashmir report that the country is living under a kind of siege, with a rigorously imposed curfew and with evidence of unacceptable and uncontrolled violence on the part of the Indian security forces. As many as 1,000 people have died this year in an orgy of murder, torture and oppression.

This has resulted in an upsurge of nationalist outrage which must be counterproductive to India's liberal and democratic reputation but which also is not welcome to Pakistan, because the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front rejects rule not only by India but by any power other than the Kashmiris themselves. The creation of a separate Kashmir would encourage similar movements in Baluchistan and Sind in Pakistan, just as it would in the Indian Punjab.

The use of force, as in so many theatres throughout the world, is squeezing the moderates and benefiting the radicals and revolutionaries, whose support has greatly increased among the people. As an Indian human rights team reported,

"the failure of the government to distinguish between masses of unarmed demonstrators on the one hand and groups of armed militants on the other has been responsible to a large extent for pushing the general public to the anti-Indian position that the militants adopt. It is the government which, ironically, has provided a handful of secessionist militants with a mass base."
India must understand that if it wants to enjoy the world's respect it must withdraw the licence to kill that its troops and paramilitary forces seem to be have been given. It must listen to those of its own people who have condemned the excesses, pointing out that they have fuelled the moves towards separation. Prime Minister V. P. Singh seemed to have learnt that lesson when he said last Friday:
"We should not club the whole people together with those forces"
—referring to the secessionists.

India must also accept that the forces that perpetuate division cannot last indefinitely. Eventually it will have to talk about self-determination in one form or another, because history teaches that, however many people may die, one can never kill the idea of nationhood. One day all the people of Kashmir will determine their own future. Meanwhile, putting an end to brutality must be the priority, not only for the sake of the people who are suffering but because it is shortsighted and mistaken to believe that driving the cork into the bottle will do anything but force the mixture inside it to boil up into an ever-more explosive brew.

It is not in the interests of India or Pakistan that Kashmir should remain the focus of repeated crises between the two countries, even though it may occasionally be a temptation for a politically beleaguered Government to build support on the strength of the need to unite against external adversaries. Neither economy is so strong that it can afford to make large commitments to a build-up of arms, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie) said. Such continuing strains would also do untold damage to the Commonwealth if they persisted. That is why it must be in the interests of the Commonwealth, too, that Britain should do all in its power to show that the denial of human rights and the use of force, especially against civilians, are pointless folly.

4.2 am

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie) on introducing this important debate on Kashmir. Even at this late hour it is good that the House can debate what is happening there. I had the opportunity of visiting Azad Kashmir and Kashmir in the first week of July, and I want to report what I saw, what I was told and what I believe are gross human rights violations being perpetrated by the Indian security forces in Kashmir. It is appropriate that the debate should follow one on Tibet; we heard of gross violations of human rights there, too, and the pattern seems to be all too familiar in both countries.

While in Kashmir I received a copy of a local newspaper which reported, with names and photographs, the people who have been murdered in recent months in Kashmir. They include men, women and children. There is a report of a baby who was murdered while taking milk from his mother and one about the body of Mohammed Umar Farooq, the Muslim leader of Kashmir, who was murdered earlier this year. There are pages of photographs of the type that appear all too regularly in Kashmir. There are photographs of a group of murdered men, and it is clear that they had been severely tortured before they died. It is claimed that Indian security forces often attempt to conceal the identity of a body by gouging out the eyes and brutally disfiguring the face. However, bodies are identified. There is a picture of a murdered child who looks about three or four years old.

Some brave women in Kashmir regularly lead protest demonstrations and there are photographs of one such demonstration. The women are protesting about Indian security forces ransacking their homes and destroying or stealing valuable property. There are two photographs of women sitting in their homes surrounded by broken and damaged property.

Those newspapers report some of what is happening in Kashmir. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok said, the newspapers are frequently closed down and their telephone and telex lines are often cut. Local people are urged by Indian security forces not to buy or read them. I also visited one of 14 refugee camps in Azad Kashmir, where 300 families were living in tents and had no drinking water. People have to walk two to three miles from the camp to Muzaffarabad to get supplies. At dusk I was introduced to a man who showed us graphically how Indian security forces had chopped off his right foot. We were told of people who had had their feet, arms or hands chopped off.

I was shown a mother and a baby boy of about one year old, both of whom had serious burn marks across the stomach. I was told that they had suffered the burns under interrogation by Indian security forces. A boy of about 15 showed me marks on his face and neck which were caused, he said, by electrodes placed there by Indian security forces. He also showed me marks on his back which he said had been caused by these security forces running red-hot irons across his back. I understand that that is a familiar torture carried out by Indian security forces on Kashmiris in Kashmir.

I met a teacher who told me that he had fled Kashmir after a colleague who was walking with him was arrested by Indian security forces. He watched while his colleague was assaulted and killed by those forces and then thrown in the river. That experience so terrified him that next day he and his family of nine fled Kashmir and joined the thousands of refugees in Azad Kashmir.

The Kashmiris walk across mountains just like the Tibetans walk across mountains to flee Tibet. Many are ill, many are injured, many die on the way and many die soon after they arrive in Azad Kashmir. Others survive in poor conditions. I urge the Governments of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir and the people of Britain to do as much as they can to relieve the suffering and hardship of the refugees who have fled Kashmir and live in poor conditions in Azad Kashmir.

On the day that I visited a refugee camp I was told that another dead body had been taken from the river that runs along the side of the camp. That was the 43rd dead body to be taken from the river since January this year.

All that I have mentioned constitutes to my mind, and to that of any fair-minded person, a worrying pattern of brutal repression that is being perpetrated by Indian security forces in Kashmir. It is systematic, it is serious and it represents a pattern of serious human rights violations which is a serious indictment of the world's largest democracy—which India claims to be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pollok referred to curfew. When I was in Kashmir, the curfew was supposed to run from 7 pm until 8 am. In fact it ran from 7 pm on Friday right until Saturday afternoon, when I left Kashmir. In April, there were three weeks of permanent curfew in Kashmir when the dead were not allowed to be buried, women were not allowed to leave their homes to have babies, the sick were not allowed to obtain treatment and no one was allowed out to buy food or get water. In those intolerable circumstances, is it any wonder that there is mounting opposition to the occupation of Kashmir by India and mounting support for those who are engaged in armed struggle?

I have referred to the systematic house searches that take place constantly. Indeed, the day that I spent in Kashmir house searches were under way on an enormous scale. There is constant harassment and intimidation, particularly of young men, which again causes considerable resentment and hostility among all civilians in Kashmir.

Martial law was introduced on the day that I arrived in Kashmir. It gives authority to constables and junior police officers to shoot on sight. In effect, it legitimises the right to shoot to kill.

We do not know how many political prisoners have been taken into detention in Kashmir in the past two years or so. The best estimates are between 10,000 and 15,000. Many of them have been moved from Kashmir to the hottest northern states of India. There are worrying reports about the conditions in which the prisoners are detained and their treatment.

As the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, asked the Minister earlier to recognise that what was happening in Tibet was a struggle for self-determination, I ask the Minister to accept and understand that what is happening in Kashmir is a genuine struggle for self-determination. It is comparable to other struggles for self-determination of the past and present.

The men, women and young people of Kashmir want an opportunity to decide their futures and to determine the destiny of Kashmir. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok said, more than 40 years ago, the people of Kashmir were promised a plebiscite to decide their future. Traditionally, the choice has always been between remaining part of India and becoming part of Pakistan. There should now be a third option of independence, for which the people of Kashmir can also vote in deciding their future.

During my brief visit to Kashmir, I met a very impressive young man of 16, Mohammed Umar Farooq, who is the son of the murdered Muslim leader that I mentioned earlier. Incidentally, at Mohammed Farooq's funeral, 50 mourners were murdered and many hundreds were seriously injured when they were attacked by Indian security forces.

Mohammed Umar Farooq told me in the clearest possible terms that the people of Kashmir should be directly represented in any dialogue or meeting between India and Pakistan on the country's future. He assured me that the events in Kashmir reflected a struggle for self-determination and the right of the people of Kashmir to decide their own future. I hope that Mohammed Umar Farooq, the spiritual leader of Kashmiri Muslims in Kashmir, will take up my suggestion that he should visit Britain, America, Canada and Europe to explain himself that there is in Kashmir a popular uprising, supported by the majority of its people, in favour of self-determination. Mohammed Umar Farooq told me that he could not leave his people at this time of great hardship, but I hope nevertheless that he will reconsider. I believe that that young man would make the most impressive ambassador for the people of Kashmir at this difficult time, and could persuade the international community that what is happening in Kashmir is nothing less than a struggle for self-determination.

I hope that the House, Britain, and the international community will understand that the events in Kashmir do not reflect a fundamentalist conspiracy to establish an Islamic state. I had several meetings with Amanullah Khan, chief spokesperson for the Jammu and Kashmir provisional Government in exile. He told me that those who support him and his provisional Government want a secular Kashmir. That provisional Government comprises Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs—and at the time that I met Mr. Khan, he was about to appoint to it a buddhist.

The House, the British public and the international community must also understand that this is not an internal matter for India alone. What is happening in Kashmir is of concern to the whole world, as is what is happening in Tibet—as we have been told tonight by the Father of the House.

What is happening in Tibet is comparable with what is happening in Kashmir. Events in the west bank, eastern Europe, South Africa and central and south America are comparable to events in Kashmir. They are genuine struggles for self-determination by courageous men and women who want nothing less than the opportunity to decide their own affairs—the right of so many other people in independent countries.

I hope that the Minister will be able to go much further than he did when he replied to a debate that I initiated in March this year, which was concerned with events in the Punjab and Kashmir. The pattern of human rights violations in both places is identical. In both cases the Indian security forces are implementing state terrorism. Yes, it is in response to individual terrorism, but we know that whenever state terrorism is implemented in response to individual terrorism there is an escalation of violence, and there is no end to the escalation unless and until political action is taken to resolve matters.

In Kashmir and in the Punjab the Indian Government think that they can resolve such issues by military means. In my view, that is impossible because in both Kashmir and the Punjab, those engaged in armed struggle have the mass, popular support of the people, who have been totally alienated by the brutal repression used by the Indian security forces against their aspirations.

I hope that the Minister will be able to say tonight that the Indian Government have confirmed the invitation to Amnesty International so that it can visit Kashmir and the Punjab thoroughly and independently to investigate the allegations of human rights violations in both states.

When I was in India, I was shocked to hear Rajiv Gandhi make a speech to his party's youth conference saying that, in his view, Amnesty International was a front organisation for the Central Intelligence Agency, which is prejudiced against India and in favour of Pakistan. He went further and urged his young party supporters to protest outside the Prime Minister's office against the invitation, and he said that if Amnesty International was allowed to visit India, the airport at Delhi should be occupied and he would be proud to join his party supporters in the sit-in to stop the organisation entering India or being able to investigate human rights violations in Kashmir or the Punjab. That is an amazing admission for a former Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy to make in 1990.

It is untenable for the Minister to repeat what he said in the debate in March—that the British Government were neutral in relation to Kashmir. In the face of a mountain of allegations about human rights violations in Kashmir, we cannot remain neutral. The Minister cannot dispute the scale of the human rights violations, in view of the authenticated reports of the numbers of people who have been murdered, seriously injured, tortured, detained, raped, harassed and intimidated daily by Indian security forces whose numbers we do not know—the minimum estimate is 150,000 and some estimates put it as high as 400,000 or 500,000 of every variety in Kashmir.

Therefore, I urge the Minister and Her Majesty's Government to take action and put pressure on the Indian Government to allow the people of Kashmir to hold a referendum and decide their own future and the destiny of their country. The time has come, not for gestures but for the British Government to make clear their condemnation of the human rights violations in Kashmir.

I urge the British Government to ban the export of military equipment to India. That equipment could be used for the repression of the people in Kashmir and the Punjab. I call on the British Government to withdraw Indian military and police personnel who are undertaking training in the United Kingdom and to ban them from undergoing future training in this country. The British Government should also withhold aid to India. Earlier this year we were told by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) that not a penny of British aid to India is spent in either Kashmir or the Punjab. Therefore, it would be perfectly proper for the British Government to withhold aid from India.

I urge the British Government to allow children and students from Kashmir who are in the United Kingdom to attend United Kingdom schools and colleges. At least 30 children from Kashmir are seeking Home Office permission to remain here and undertake the education that they are denied in Kashmir. Nearly all schools, colleges, banks and other public buildings in Kashmir are closed. Local administration is non-existent. There is, therefore, an overwhelming need for the British Government to make a modest contribution to the future of Kashmir by ensuring that children and students from Kashmir are allowed to secure an education here.

As there is a great shortage of medical supplies in Kashmir, I also urge the Kashmiri community here to do everything that it can to raise money to buy medical supplies. May I ask the British Government to make a request to the Indian Government that they should allow those supplies to enter Kashmir and that they should instruct Air India to carry them. In recent months there have been reports that Air India has refused to carry medical supplies.

It is also important that the international media, including the British media, should be able to report what is happening in Kashmir. It is vital that British Members of Parliament and politicians from the Parliaments of other countries should visit Kashmir. The Indian high commissioner in London has assured me and my colleagues on a number of occasions that India has nothing to hide or conceal in Kashmir. However, when I talk to journalists from the newspaper and broadcasting media they tell me that visas are not made available to them by the Indian high commission and that they are unable to visit Kashmir. I have been told by hon. Members that applications for visas to visit Kashmir have not been granted, even though their applications were made some time ago.

I join in congratulating the Minister on his promotion. I wish him well in his new post. He would do the House a valuable service, and the people of Kashmir an invaluable service, if he could intimate that the British Government now accept that what is happening in Kashmir is a genuine struggle for self-determination and that independence should be an option that is available to the people of Kashmir, when the opportunity arises for them to decide their own future. I hope that the Minister will state that Britain will not stand on the sidelines and maintain its neutrality in the face of the serious allegations that have been made by hon. Members from both sides of the House over several months about the extent of human rights violations in Kashmir and the extent of brutality perpetrated by Indian security forces on the people of Kashmir.

I hope that the Minister will say tonight that he believes that the people of Kashmir should be given that opportunity and that the Governments of India and Pakistan must be persuaded that the only way to resolve this problem is by a political solution. The only valid political solution that holds any promise of resolving such an enormous crime against humanity is the holding of a plebiscite or referendum to enable the people of Kashmir to decide to remain part of India, become part of Pakistan or become independent. The latter option is winning enormous popular support.

Kashmir is a beautiful country—the most beautiful that I have ever visited. It is the Switzerland of Asia. It has mineral resources, a population of 10 million people and economic viability. Above all, I believe that the people of Kashmir are entitled to the nationhood that they hold dear. It is also important to have a buffer, an independent state between India and Pakistan, which could add greatly to the stability and long-term peace of that important region.

I hope that the Minister's reply tonight will give some hope to the people of Kashmir that, in the near future, they will have the right for which they are now paying dearly and which so many other people round the world have—the right to decide freely and fairly their future, and that of their lovely country.

4.32 am

By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie) for his diligence in pursuing this issue at Prime Minister's Question Time and on other occasions, and on his good fortune in coming relatively high in today's order. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) and the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) on showing their commitment to the issue by staying until this ungodly hour to participate in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West has frequently raised the subject in various ways.

I can confirm that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have received many representations about this issue, as have Back Benchers. They have heard from organisations directly involved with one or other of the sides of the issue, from organisations concerned about human rights violations and, above all, from constituents, from whom a number of representations have been received.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok said, it: is right that the British Parliament should consider that it has a special responsibility in this as in many other problem areas around the world which are relics of our colonial past. As he rightly said, it was at the time of Indian independence in 1947 that the seeds of this long and unhappy conflict were sown. No doubt that is something about which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues are not unaware.

Now, with pressure from the three elements—those seeking continuation within India, those pressing for a move to Pakistan and the groups favouring independence—it is probably not surprising, but nonetheless regrettable, that the intensity of the conflict, the killings and the injuries have recently increased.

It is important to point out, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West rightly said, that Kashmir is a beautiful state whose economy depends to a great extent on tourism and which has been much harmed by the continuation of the dispute—a not unimportant matter when talking about the prosperity of its people.

On behalf of the Opposition, I report, without agreement or disagreement, that we have been made fully aware that the Indian Government want a political solution agreed bilaterally between India and Pakistan. They tell us that they seek to persuade Kashmiris that as the only Muslim majority state in India their interests can be accommodated within a pluralist, federal India. They tell us that they have understandable fears that an independent Kashmir might increase secessionist calls from other states and the possibility of further terrorism elsewhere on their doorstep.

Equally, the Government of Pakistan have emphasised to us in several meetings their concern that a plebiscite has not been held, as envisaged, to give the people of Kashmir a choice of remaining part of India or joining Pakistan. Neither India nor Pakistan favours the option of independence being put to the people of Kashmir, yet we all know that that is the central aim of the Jammu and Kashmir liberation front. Although such an option was not envisaged in the Simla agreement or the United Nations resolution, given the proliferation of similar demands elsewhere it is entirely understandable that many hon. Members, some of whom have spoken today, have sympathy with those aspirations.

This important issue was the subject of careful consideration and, indeed, a resolution at the recent meeting of the Socialist International in Cairo, in which the British Labour party participated and fully supported the resolution. [Interruption.] I see that the Minister is suffering from the vagaries of the hour, so I shall not take too long. The resolution on Kashmir at the Socialist International said:
"In Kashmir, the tension between India and Pakistan is increasing and the risk of war between the two countries is growing.
The Socialist International is concerned at the growing tension between India and Pakistan and calls on both countries to avoid any further escalation of tension and to redeploy their armed forces to peace-time locations.
The Socialist International urges the governments of India and Pakistan to open a dialogue to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the applicable United Nations Resolutions and the spirit of the Simla Agreement.
The Socialist International requests the governments of India and Pakistan to allow it to play a conciliatory role to promote this dialogue."
As we all know, since the meeting in Cairo the Foreign Ministers of both countries met in Islamabad last week. Although the talks were deadlocked, they have agreed to reconvene on 9 August, and we urge continuing dialogue until some agreement is reached. It would be tragic for all concerned if India and Pakistan were to go to war for a third time over Kashmir. As both countries are members of the Commonwealth, we urge examination of all possible ways of mobilising the Commonwealth as an organisation to help to find a way forward. The hon. Member for Keighley emphasised that point.

Equally, this is one of regrettably far too many disputes around the world which cries out for a greater United Nations role in conflict resolution. There are people within the United Nations such as Under-Secretary-General Marrack Goulding, a former distinguished diplomat of this country, who believe that the United Nations could and should play a more active part in the resolution of disputes. That is also the view of an increasing number of politicians in an ever growing number of countries around the world. In order to do so, the United Nations would need a permanent peacekeeping force, a team of skilled negotiators working for the Secretary-General and integration with the mechanisms of the world court to make agreements legally binding.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for the United Nations to do such a job, and we should be taking action before many more thousands die in the growing number of escalating disputes around the world, of which, tragically, Kashmir is one of the most serious.

One of the many encouraging signs from the increased global co-operation between the two super-powers is the way they are using their influence to move towards the resolution of regional conflict. We hope that that will be a positive influence in the dispute in Kashmir. Regrettably, however, Amnesty International reports that many serious human rights abuses have been committed by Indian security forces. The graphic accounts of those abuses given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West moved all hon. Members who were present. As he conceded, the militant organisations campaigning to join neighbouring Pakistan or to become an independent state have also been reported to Amnesty International for human rights violations. Those human rights abuses, of whatever kind, of whatever intensity and from whatever source, must be condemned and must stop.

As in so many of these disputes, the prerequisites of a solution are an end to human rights abuses, a ceasefire, an agreement to end supplies of arms to all sides and an agreement to seek a solution through peaceful discussion with any outside help which can be mutually agreed. In saying that, we do not underestimate the sincerity or the strength of feeling on all sides and the difficulty of resolving the conflicting interests in Kashmir. Here, as elsewhere—we cannot completely ignore other parallels and precedents—a peaceful solution must be the only way forward for democracies. In India and Pakistan, we now have two of the world's largest democracies both in the Commonwealth—which we wish to see survive and develop for a long time, peacefully, side by side. A negotiated agreement on Kashmir is, in the Opposition's view, an essential element of that aim.

4.41 am

By leave of the House, I should like to speak again.

I join those who congratulated the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie) on bringing this subject before the House again, even if this is not the easiest of hours. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) and the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) on being present at a time when some people think that it is better to start the day rather than continuing what turned out to be a rather long one. I congratulate them on contributing to another interesting debate on a difficult subject.

It is interesting that the official title of the subject is
"Relations between Her Majesty's Government and India, with particular reference to Kashmir".
General relationships have not been mentioned much in this debate, but it is worth recording that our relationships with the Government of India are excellent. We have strong links and there are countless points of contact between Britain and India on many levels—historical, political, academic, cultural, commercial, sporting and, of course, personal. The state visit in April of the President of India to Britain was an important event of great value in celebrating the closeness and warmth of our links with India.

We have a substantial relationship with India—an aspect which I look forward to having more time to consider. We very much look forward to being a partner nation at the Indian engineering trade fair in New Delhi next February. More than 100 British firms have made bookings to take part in that event—a major response by British companies to a special opportunity to present themselves in the Indian market. India is an important export market. In 1989, our exports reached an all-time high of £1·4 billion. In the first four months of 1990, exports were up by over 18 per cent. on the same period in 1989.

Aid is important in our relationship because India is the largest recipient of British aid. Since 1981, more than £1 billion of British aid has been channelled there, either directly or through multilateral agencies. I do not think that a call to cut off that aid is sensible in the present circumstances. More people live in extreme poverty in India than anywhere else in the world, and much of our aid has been focused on the areas where it is most needed. In addition, the Indian authorities have a very good record of using aid effectively.

I do not propose to dwell on the long historical connections between Britain and India, some of which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Pollok. Our shared past has certainly left us with many things in common which go far beyond language. Cricket is one connection of which we are currently all too well aware, having recently suffered two defeats, by what appears to be an excellent Indian side, in the one-day matches. It leads us to look forward to the test matches that are to follow.

We have similar, democratic administrative and legal systems, and both Britain and India rely on those institutions to protect the same values, democratic rights and civil liberties. Freedom of speech and the rule of law mean the same things to both our countries. A long historical connection and our shared past give India and Britain common objectives in our shared determination to sustain democratic institutions and individual freedom under the law.

The Kashmir dispute has dominated our discussion this evening—or should I say this morning?

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon—or Dawn!—Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is right to draw attention to the arrival of "rosy-fingered dawn", as I believe Homer described it.

The Kashmir dispute has caused us great concern; it has given rise to tension between India and Pakistan, which are both good friends of Britain. Our longstanding position on the dispute over the status of Kashmir has been, and remains, one of neutrality: I must repeat that to the hon. Member for Bradford, West, whom I have told the same thing before. When I say that our position remains one of neutrality, I am referring to our position on the dispute over the status of Kashmir, not to our attitude to abuses of human rights in Kashmir or, indeed, anywhere else in the world; we condemn such abuses, and have no attitude of neutrality towards them.

Our neutrality in regard to the dispute is not an indication of indifference. We believe that it can be settled only through agreement between the two Governments concerned. In our discussions with representatives of both the Pakistan and the Indian Government, we have made it clear that we believe that the dispute is one to be settled between them, and we hope that they will be able to reach a peaceful settlement of the issues involved. We have encouraged both sides to avoid conflict, which we are convinced that neither wants, and have offered to try to help them to resolve their dispute; but only—this seems to me entirely sensible—if both sides would like us to do so.

As has been pointed out, there have been a number of United Nations resolutions on Kashmir. In 1948 and 1949, the issue was whether Kashmir should accede to Pakistan or to India, and not independence; that was not on the table. Self-determination was always understood to mean the freedom of the Kashmiri people to choose between India and Pakistan. Britain voted in favour of the resolutions, the texts of which represented agreement between India and Pakistan at the time.

We must recognise that a great deal has happened since then. Two wars have been fought, and an agreement was reached in 1972 governing bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. Under that agreement—the Simla agreement—both countries agreed
"to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed on between them".
Both sides also committed themselves in the Simla agreement to a
"final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir."
Our longstanding position is entirely consistent with the terms of that agreement and we are confident that real progress in settling the dispute can be made only by agreements reached between India and Pakistan. The hon. Member for Bradford, West referred to the possibility of independence. The future of Kashmir is for India and Pakistan to resolve bilaterally, but neither of those countries has seen independence as an available option.

Reference has been made to the possibility of Amnesty International being allowed to visit India. I can confirm—and welcome—the Indian Government's decision to allow Amnesty International representatives to visit the country for private purposes, to hold seminars or discussions with the Indian Government. We have noted Indian readiness to consider applications from Amnesty International and other human rights organisations to investigate human rights in Kashmir or elsewhere. The ball is now in Amnesty International's court and we hope that it will take advantage of the openings provided.

In the meantime, I hope that we can agree that there is no doubt that the tension between India and Pakistan has receded in recent weeks. That must be helpful in coming together peacefully. As I said, that must be the only way forward.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley referred to a meeting between the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan. It was, in fact, a meeting between the top officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Indian and Pakistan Governments. They met in Islamabad on 18 and 19 July to discuss ways of reducing tension over Kashmir. We have encouraged both sides to look positively at a series of confidence-building measures and are glad that they have agreed to meet again in New Delhi on 9 August to continue the discussions. That is a welcome decision. We welcome those moves and hope that they will contribute to the search for a peaceful and lasting solution to the current problems. As I have said before and must say again, it has always been our view that this issue should be dealt with bilaterally between India and Pakistan.

Not surprisingly, human rights abuses have featured in the debate. As I said in the House on 22 March, I do not think that anybody in India would claim that that country has an unblemished human rights record. The Indian Government are the first to concede that abuses have taken place. However, it is not fair to compare India with countries that systematically abuse human rights as a matter of Government policy. India is a democratic country with an independent legal system to which those who believe that they have been treated unfairly have recourse. There is a vibrantly free press in which injustices can be and are exposed. I have no doubt of the Indian Government's genuine commitment to the maintenance of political freedom and civil liberties. Of course we have seen the reports of excesses by the security forces in dealing with the disturbances in Kashmir.

We continue in our contacts with the Indian Government to make clear to them the deep concern of Ministers that human rights must be respected and to urge them to exercise the maximum restraint in their efforts to control a difficult law and order problem. At the same time, we have repeatedly made clear that the use of violence for political ends cannot be condoned.

The hon. Member for Bradford, West and others referred to several incidents. Those have not gone unnoticed in India. The Indian press and Members of the Indian Parliament severely criticised the loss of control of the central reserve police force and the tragic incidents when they opened fire on mourners after the assassination of the Muslim Maulvi Mirwaiz Farooq on 21 May. That is indicative of what I said about the free press and the opportunity for free discussion in India and the basic respect in that country for our approach to democracy and civil rights.

Reference was made to the possibility of a plebiscite. The Government of India argue that ratification of the accession in 1954 by the elected Kashmir constituents assembly fulfilled the commitment to a test of popular opinion.

Reference was also made to the position in Punjab. I suspect that it is a sad measure of the intractability of the problems in Punjab that the Government's policies have failed so far to evoke a response from political groups in the state. The sharp escalation of violence, with more than 1,400 deaths so far this year, and intimidation by terrorist groups forced the Government in May to postpone state elections with a consequent loss of momentum towards a political accommodation.

We hope that the new governor of Punjab will be able to regenerate an atmosphere in which progress towards a political settlement can be made. The House will recognise that we do not face an easy situation. As I said, we condemn abuses of human rights wherever they occur. The Government will continue to do all we can to maintain the closest friendship with India and we will look for ways of strengthening our existing co-operation in many areas.

Although we cannot disguise the deep concern felt in this country and expressed in the House today at events in Kashmir, we know that the Indian Government are aware of the need to keep their security forces under tight control, to work for a reduction in tension with Pakistan and to revive political life in Kashmir. We hope that they will be able to bring all those essential tasks to a succesful conclusion as soon as possible. As I said, we remain ready to help in such ways as we can in those important tasks.