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Volume 734: debated on Thursday 19 January 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Government of Pakistan and other interested parties regarding the current political situation in Pakistan.

My Lords, when I visited Pakistan last week, I called on Prime Minister Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, and I had discussions with President Zardari, Chief Minister for the Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, the governor of Sindh and Imran Khan. We are following the situation of Pakistan closely. We want it to enjoy free and fair elections and we believe that it is important to avoid escalating tensions. A strong and stable constitutional democracy is in the interests of Pakistan and we encourage all involved to act in a way that respects the constitution and helps to ensure stability.

I thank the Minister for the very interventionist stand that the Government are taking. I would not expect her to agree with the proposition that, while normal states have a military, in Pakistan’s case it is the military that has a state. However, would she nevertheless agree that when there is a highly interventionist and politically motivated supreme court, a military that challenges the civilian Government over the dismissal of the Defence Secretary and a military and intelligence service that supports rival candidates in an election, the position in terms of democracy in Pakistan is very dangerous? Can the Minister tell the House whether the UK Government, as a friend of Pakistan, are considering a Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group to intervene to bring about a break in the impasse that currently holds?

My Lords, Pakistan faces challenging political times but that is not new. All parties in Pakistan recognise that this is a huge opportunity for Pakistan, for once, to have a full-term democratically elected Government pass power to another democratically elected Government. From all the discussions that we have had with all parties in Pakistan, they all recognise how high the stakes are. The noble Baroness will be aware of a Friends of Pakistan group, and it may well be that these are matters that can be discussed there.

My Lords, I particularly welcome the way in which the Minister reached out during her visit to Pakistan to people from minorities, especially religious minorities. Has she noted that this month is the first anniversary of the assassination of Salman Taseer, the former governor of the Punjab, who was murdered along with Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Minister for Minorities in Pakistan? Can she tell the House whether, during her discussions, she considered how British aid is being used in Pakistan? Is it being used to create and promote the sort of values espoused by Members of your Lordships’ House and the British Government, or is any of that money being siphoned into causes and groups that promote the kind of sectarian violence that led to the deaths of Shahbaz Bhatti and the governor of the Punjab?

My Lords, the assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were tragic for both Pakistan and the rest of the world. They were a personal tragedy for me because of my personal relationship with Shahbaz Bhatti. However, as I promised him, I visited Karachi when I was in Pakistan, and specifically visited a convent school for girls and met the Archbishop of Karachi. The school is an excellent example of service to education and to interfaith relations. It is run by an Irish nun who has been in Pakistan for 58 years. I was delighted to hear from the Archbishop that the Christian community in Karachi is doing well, despite its challenges.

Our main commitment to aid in Pakistan is through the education programme. We are committed to 4 million more children being educated as a result of DfID’s commitment in Pakistan. I am sure that all in your Lordships’ House would agree that the best way to open minds and to deal with the challenges of extremism is through better educated young people.

My Lords, in the midst of the current political difficulties in Pakistan, will the Minister take the opportunity to reaffirm that the stability of Pakistan, and its friendship with this country, remain key political objectives of the Government, not only because it is a member of the Commonwealth and a sovereign state with nuclear weapons, but because of its important role in the whole of that region?

My Lords, since Britain is an ex-colonial power in Pakistan, the level of respect for Pakistan and our relationship with it always surprise and please me. There is a historical and cultural link. Pakistan’s biggest diaspora lives in Britain and Britain’s biggest diaspora is of Pakistani origin. There are 1.4 million journeys between the two countries each year. In all discussions with all interlocutors in Pakistan, we are consistently told that Britain’s relationship with Pakistan is respected and deeply supported. In those circumstances, we have a responsibility to use that relationship for a stable and prosperous Pakistan, which we recognise will lead to a more stable and prosperous Britain.

My Lords, will the Minister please tell the House what steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to reduce the tension between the United States and Pakistan that has grown and is born out of the incident at the Pakistan army check-posts a few months ago, which resulted in the loss of 24 Pakistani army personnel?

My Lords, the Government have expressed their deepest condolences to the families of the 26 young men who were killed in that incident. However, we also recognise that, despite our special relationship with Pakistan and our special relationship and friendship with the US, it is for the US and Pakistan to resolve their relationship.

My Lords, I welcome the focus on education because that is clearly so important within Pakistan, but is this money and support for education going down through government routes or is it going out separately to educational institutions? When I was the Security Minister, I was somewhat appalled that money seemed to get diverted and that the amount of money that actually got to the schools and to where it was required became very small compared with what was injected at the top.

My Lords, the commitment is to educate 4 million children. It is a very specific commitment. It is not to give an amount of money but to ensure that 4 million additional children are put into education as well as providing training for a specific number of teachers and a specific amount of resources for schools. That money is channelled through the Government, predominantly on a provincial basis, but it is also channelled through NGOs—about 40 per cent of it passes through the provincial Governments and about 60 per cent passes outside.