Skip to main content

UK-Pakistan Relations

Volume 482: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2008

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has discussed UK-Pakistan relations with Foreign Minister Qureshi on a number of occasions, and with President Zardari during the Friends of Pakistan meeting in September. We have a broad range of common interests, including the international financial crisis and the need to combat the threat from violent extremism.

The Minister will be aware that there is a significant Ahmadiyya community across this country, which is based in Southfields in my constituency. Is he raising the issue of the persecution of that community in Pakistan? If so, is he aware that recently two members of that community were brutally murdered in Pakistan? However, that is just the extreme end of a broader pattern of persecution that takes place daily. Will he raise this specific issue with the Pakistan Government to find out what pressure can be brought to bear to deal with this problem?

I agree with the hon. Lady: we are concerned about the two recent murders in the Ahmadiyya community. We fundamentally support religious freedom, and with our European Union partners we regularly raise concerns about the treatment of minority groups with the Government of Pakistan, and have stressed the fundamental interplay that exists between long-term security, a stable democracy and the importance of guaranteeing the rights and political participation of all Pakistani citizens. We will continue to make that argument.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the British embassy in Islamabad has stopped taking applications from Mirpur, which has made it extremely difficult for people there to have applications processed, as the nearest places at present are Lahore or the United Arab Emirates? Since there have been no terrorist activities in Mirpur, that situation should not continue.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I know he has expressed them on a number of occasions. There is a balance to be struck. There are logistical and security concerns about the issuing of visas. We keep matters under review, but the current situation is as it stands.

Is the Minister aware that last week 14 new members of the Pakistan National Assembly were here in our Parliament under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK branch? They were particularly interested in the development and evolution of parliamentary democracy in their country. They were also interested to know why in the past we supported in Pakistan an individual who certainly did not support parliamentary democracy. Is it our view that we can develop with the Government of Pakistan an improvement in parliamentary democracy in that country?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that visits such as that organised by the CPA are particularly important. We both want to support the development of democracy in Pakistan, which is a key facet of our bilateral relationship.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that several Pakistani MPs attended an Inter-Parliamentary Union human rights conference in Geneva last week. They thanked the IPU for the role that it had played in trying to help President Zardari, who had spent all those long years in jail, to get a fair trial. They singled out the IPU in particular, because they said that no other organisation gave assistance in the same way. What news does my hon. Friend have about the reinstatement of the judges in Pakistan, because it was of considerable concern to this country when, under emergency rule, they were all dismissed?

I share my right hon. Friend’s regard for the IPU’s work, not only in Pakistan but across the world. During the coalition discussions to resolve the issue of the restoration of the judiciary we certainly reiterated our position of attaching great importance to respect for the independence of the judiciary as a cornerstone of the rule of law. We supported the efforts of coalition leaders to find a solution. That remains our position, and we are pushing that argument forward very strongly.

Has the Minister had an opportunity to discuss with his Pakistani counterparts the effect of recent US military strikes on Pakistan? Could he tell us the Government’s view of military action that takes place in Pakistan that is not authorised or approved by its Government?

That is an operational matter—[Hon. Members: “It is not.”] It is an operational matter that should be, and is, discussed between the Pakistani authorities and the United States. The Government of Pakistan are making great efforts to control security in the border area, and it is very important that both we and the United States work closely with the Pakistani authorities in support of that.

Stability in Pakistan will be difficult to achieve while the Kashmir conundrum continues. Does the Minister welcome President-elect Obama’s underlining of Kashmir as an issue that America will have to address? Does the Minister also agree that the presence of half a million Indian troops in Kashmir means that Pakistan keeps most of its military on its eastern flank, instead of focusing on its western flank and helping us in Afghanistan?

The situation in Kashmir remains an important concern, and we are urging all parties to commit themselves and to support the composite dialogue in that regard.