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Volume 226: debated on Wednesday 16 June 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had about the situation in Kashmir; and if he will make a statement.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Indian Government on the present position in Kashmir; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs most recently discussed Kashmir with the Indian Vice-President on 25 May during his visit to London.

More than 20,000 Kashmiris have been killed and thousands more imprisoned and tortured by Indian forces over the past three years. Will the Government use their influence, particularly through the Commonwealth and the United Nations, to try to get the Indian and Pakistani Governments to reach an agreement whereby more respect is given to the human rights of the people of Kashmir? That agreement could also give the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination, leading possibly to the establishment of an independent state of Kashmir if that is what the people want.

I can certainly agree that the resolution of that ancient and difficult problem must require dialogue between India and the Pakistan Government—that we urge. We wish to be as helpful as we can. We have certainly made it absolutely clear to the Indians that we are concerned about human rights. In fact, the Indians have initiated legislation to set up an independent human rights commission. But the way forward must be by dialogue between the two factions.

The Minister referred to a meeting. What was the response of the Indian Minister to allowing an all-party group of hon. Members to visit the occupied area of Kashmir? In view of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Cunningham), will the Minister give an indication of what progress the Prime Minister is making? In a letter to me in April, he clearly indicated that he would welcome Kashmir being on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Cyprus later this year, because Pakistan and India would be at that conference.

As for visiting Kashmir, the hon. Gentleman must take up his case with the Indian high commissioner. For my part, I believe that it is helpful that there should be visits to that part of the world. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the problems of Kashmir with the Indian Prime Minister in January and with the Indian Vice-President when he visited Britain in May. My right hon. Friend made his views quite clear on both occasions and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I do so as well.

My hon. Friend will know that there is great concern among hon. Members about human rights in Indian-held Kashmir. Will he confirm that the solution to that long-standing problem must arise from negotiations between the two countries concerned, India and Pakistan, under the Simla agreement? Will he continue to bring to the attention of those countries, in particular India, our concern about human rights and the fact that the United Kingdom will be available to help both countries should they so wish such assistance?

Should both countries seek our support, we will always be willing and ready to give it. An important point that should be made when discussing the human rights problem in Kashmir is that the criticism that is expressed in the House is often mirrored—indeed initiated—by criticism in the Indian Parliament, from the Indian press and, of course, from Indian human rights organisations, all of which express their concern as well.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Simla agreement which India and Pakistan signed involves a commitment to start talking about Kashmir, which unfortunately at present the Indian Government appear to be unwilling to commit themselves to doing? Will my hon. Friend use every opportunity to reiterate to the Indian Government that it is unreasonable to exclude from Jammu and Kashmir independent observers such as British Members of Parliament and representatives of Amnesty International and that, short of such acceptance of independent visitors, India's reputation for human rights must be subject to the deepest scrutiny?

My hon. Friend has expressed his opinion. Obviously, contact between the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistan Prime Minister is highly desirable. They last met at the non-aligned summit in Dhaka in April this year and I hope that they will have future meetings.

Will the Minister press the Indian Government to publish the names of the 52,000 people held in India, including Kashmir, without trial? Will he also advise his counterparts at the Home Office that, in view of India's appalling human rights record and the numbers held in detention without trial, now is not the time to invite the British House of Commons to pass orders approving the extradition treaty between Britain and India?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should not have proper arrangements for the extradition of terrorist offenders. There will be the usual safeguards in the extradition treaty provisions which are presented to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The person in question will have to be brought before Bow Street magistrates court. The court must be satisfied that he will not be prejudiced because of his political opinions. The Home Secretary makes the final decision, which is subject to judicial review. Therefore, there is a great deal of protection for anyone who is brought into the proceedings.