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Volume 733: debated on Thursday 1 December 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the contribution made by Pakistan as the front-line state in the “war on terror”.

My Lords, Pakistan remains an important partner in the fight against terrorism. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated following his meeting with President Zardari on 4 July last,

“working together to defeat terrorism in all its forms is very much top of our agenda”.

The al-Qaeda core has been severely weakened over the last six months. It is important that the UK and Pakistan, together with other key international partners such as the United States, continue to work together to disrupt terrorist groups which threaten all our interests.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he join me in sending condolences to the families of 26 Pakistani soldiers who were killed by a NATO air strike a few days ago? Is he aware that Pakistan has lost over 30,000 civilians and over 5,000 soldiers—more than any other country in the world—as well as $75 billion to $80 billion, and that Pakistan has hosted over 6 million refugees from Afghanistan? Separating the sacrifice made by the people of Pakistan from Ali Baba and his 40 companions, will the Minister assure the House that the British taxpayers’ money allocated to DfID for education and training teachers will not end up in this individual’s private accounts in Switzerland?

Yes, my Lords, as regards condolences, I certainly join the noble Lord. In fact, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan only the other day to offer his deepest condolences. A full investigation of that really tragic and dreadful incident is, of course, under way. I hope Pakistan will participate fully in that investigation. The United States has expressed its regret at the loss of life.

As regards the suffering faced by Pakistan, I think we all acknowledge the colossal strain on Pakistan, its society and all its citizens, with the conditions they face not only on the terrorist side, but also through the visitations of floods and other challenges, all of which add great difficulty to Pakistan’s administration. As for our aid, I can assure the noble Lord that all our aid is independently evaluated and scrutinised under our UK Aid Transparency Guarantee, and that certainly applies to all aid to Pakistan as well.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the most telling contribution Pakistan could make to global security would be to improve levels of effective governance, economic growth and employment within its own borders, and that the international community should not allow its frustration over other issues, however understandable, to divert it from this strategic focus in its engagement with Pakistan?

Yes, that is an extremely wise observation, and I think that Her Majesty’s Government would totally agree with it.

My Lords, I add my condolences to the relatives of those who lost their lives in the tragic event last week. I ask the Minister whether consideration will be given to postponing the Bonn meeting to allow Pakistan to participate. Could its agenda perhaps be extended to cover discussion of the findings of the NATO inquiry into this tragedy, including an investigation into the allegations made by Major General Ishfaq Nadeem, that it was impossible for NATO not to have known that it was attacking Pakistani posts, and that NATO had ignored mutually agreed communications procedures?

No, I do not think it would be right to seek postponement of the Bonn meeting which is coming up, and we urge Pakistan to join. I know that in its dismay at this whole event it has thought about not joining, and in a sense that is understandable. But one looks for second thoughts and hopes that Pakistan will join the meeting. It is not a meeting organised by or about NATO, it is about the whole future of Afghanistan. Pakistani involvement would be valuable and we strongly encourage it. We stick to the timetable that has been planned.

My Lords, while I was Minister for Security for three years, the country of gravest concern to me globally was Pakistan. Notwithstanding the huge efforts, huge sacrifices and so forth that have been made in Pakistan, does the Minister not agree that one of the greatest risks to that country is violent, extremist terrorism within and around its borders and not threats from India? The fact that India is being looked at by some people within the ISI and the army as the greatest threat has diverted its efforts.

The noble Lord makes an extremely good point. Pakistan has many problems but very high on the list are the terrorist threat and its borders with Afghanistan, as we all know. As to relations with India, we notice that India and Pakistan have recently been talking. We greatly welcome and encourage their dialogue, which we hope will lead to a less tense development on that side and therefore less distraction from the main aims that the noble Lord has rightly identified.

My Lords, accepting that Pakistan has been in the front line in the war on terror for the past 10 years, I seek our Government’s assurance that strategically, militarily and tactically on the ground Pakistan’s role will not be diminished and that it will continue to play an integrated role in the war against terror—not watching on the sidelines but being involved and engaged fully to prevent the kind of incidents that we saw recently with attacks on Pakistani forces within Pakistani sovereign territory. I join in extending condolences to the families who suffered loss as a result of that act.

I am sure that my noble friend’s condolences will be appreciated. These horrific things do happen, and we await an investigation of what on earth went wrong for this to have occurred. Full integration in counterterrorism is very much our purpose. As the House knows, we have counterterrorist discussions with Pakistan, although I cannot reveal the details, and we are determined to use its skills and intelligence availability in the united war against terror.