My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in this opportunity to offer our sincerest condolences to the people of Pakistan following the bomb blasts last week in Karachi, and in utterly condemning that attack on Pakistanis exercising their right to express their democratic voice. I assure your Lordships that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to support and work with all those committed to building a peaceful and democratic Pakistan. I was visiting the country when the attacks occurred and in my discussions with Prime Minister Aziz, other members of the Government and the chief electoral commissioner, I reiterated the UK’s support for the continued preparation for free and fair parliamentary elections in January.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that although co-operation on anti-terrorism is important, it should not be at the expense of democracy, the rule of law and human rights? Will he assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government will not support a single political party or a general in the forthcoming elections, but will respect the decision of the people of Pakistan by supporting free, fair and transparent elections, which he has already mentioned, with the participation of all political parties and the return of the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif?
My Lords, I am very happy to reassure my noble friend that we strongly support free and fair elections in Pakistan and the right of all parties committed to the democratic process to participate in that polling event. That includes the party of Mr Nawaz Sharif. In the mean time, DfID, through the UNDP, has provided some £3.5 million in support of the free and fair conduct of those elections.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm whether there are any outstanding issues of difference between Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of Pakistan regarding any organisation or individual who is alleged to have committed terrorist activity in Pakistan but is resident in or operating out of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I do not think that there are issues of difference; I assure the noble Baroness of that. There are ongoing police investigations in one case. I would not wish to comment on them except to say that where evidence is brought to the police of inappropriate support to terrorist activities in Pakistan, the full force of British law will be brought to bear.
My Lords, the Minister emphasised the pursuit of democracy in Pakistan, and that is very welcome. However, does he agree that Pakistan’s longer-term security lies in it having a stable future; that a stable future will come about only through national reconciliation, to deal with the challenges of international terrorism, the resurgent Taliban and so on; and that reconciliation will have to involve all the players, including the military, the political parties, the constitutional structures and civil society? Does he agree that that approach—the Commonwealth Heads of Government approach—is the one that in the longer term will deliver what we want?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely correct to focus on national reconciliation, but the starting point of such reconciliation is a successful election in which everyone can participate. The British Government have been through all the means available to them to stress to all the parties—the political parties, the military, President Musharraf and Pakistani civil society—that there must be a process in which everyone feels that they can participate and own the Government, and that the elections are just a prelude to an extended process of reconciliation in the country.
My Lords, we fully share the concerns about the horror of the atrocity in Karachi and we, too, send our sympathies to the people of Pakistan who want democracy and not bloodshed. We also accept, of course, that we must press for proper democratic procedures to be pursued in Pakistan. Will the Minister also use our own direct influence, such as it is, and our influence through the Commonwealth network—which tends to be rather underused and put aside in government policy nowadays, but which can be valuable in creating pressures for greater democracy and greater freedom in the member states of the Commonwealth network?
My Lords, the noble Lord offers me an important suggestion, as did the noble Baroness. We have a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at the end of November. I very much take the suggestion to heart, and we will make sure that we brief our Commonwealth colleagues on what is happing in Pakistan and try to exert collective pressure on behalf of not only free and fair elections but national reconciliation.
My Lords, what international organisations have been invited to send observation teams to the elections? Does the Minister agree that it would be far better to send them now, so that they can see that a level playing field is being established, rather than at the last minute when it might be too late?
My Lords, the two groups of which I am aware are the Commonwealth and the European Union. In the case of the European Union, the issue is on the desk of the relevant Commissioner pending a decision. There are questions about the effectiveness of the observation mission, about security issues and so on, but I can assure the noble Lord that we are pressing hard in Brussels for a European mission to be sent in addition to a Commonwealth one.