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Volume 734: debated on Monday 30 January 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Pakistan regarding the democratic process in that country.

My Lords, between 11 and 13 January my and noble friend Lady Warsi visited Pakistan, where she called on Prime Minister Gilani and Foreign Minister Rabbani Khar. She expressed the UK view that a strong, stable, constitutional democracy was in the interests of Pakistan. We are following the political situation in Pakistan closely. We want Pakistan to enjoy credible elections that respect the constitution and help ensure stability.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that it is important for any democratically elected Government to show respect for law, the courts and public opinion, and to reject corruption, nepotism and bribery? Therefore, does he also agree that it is better to work with national institutions such as the civil service and the army to modernise and reform them rather than criticising them in public? Finally, will he help the Government of Pakistan try to negotiate some sort of peace deal with the Taliban in Pakistan?

From the British point of view, the sentiments about how democratic Governments should develop are admirable. There are certain matters inside Pakistan that it is not our business to be concerned with or to solve; they lie with the people of Pakistan. However, the general principles that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, outlined are the right ones. Dealings with the Taliban, too, are a matter for the Pakistan Government. There are delicate and important areas where contact with the Taliban appears to be developing internationally. This may be part of the progress and help needed to see Afghanistan get on a better path.

My Lords, since Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators for a long time, and the present Government are the first in 35 years to complete four years in office, the lack of democratic continuity has weakened the state institutions. How can the Minister's Government help create an environment in which the democratic process will continue uninterrupted in Pakistan?

The best way is the way which we are using: namely, playing a very forward part in assisting social, educational and institutional development in Pakistan. Pakistan is the largest recipient of United Kingdom aid: it will work out at about £446 million over the next three years to 2015. We have a huge programme of bringing more children into school—another 4 million out of the 17 million in Pakistan who still do not go to school. We are also playing a major role in other, very valuable social developments. Those are the conditions in which the better democracy that my noble friend rightly wants—and we all want—is most likely to grow.

My Lords, as we approach the first anniversary of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Minorities Minister, in Pakistan, does the Minister detect any signs of hope that Christians and other minorities will be able to play their fullest and most active part in the democratic process there?

The right reverend Prelate rightly reminds us of a particularly horrific thing; and there have been other horrific murders as well. None of them is welcome. He asks whether I am optimistic and can offer reassurance that things will improve. We will do our best to support the development of a more peaceful, balanced and democratic Pakistan in every possible way; a Pakistan that tolerates faiths and removes the stain of attacks on minorities, including horrific attacks on the Christian community such as the ones that occurred. However, it would be misleading if I stood at the Dispatch Box and sounded optimistic notes about the future, which is still very precarious for all these faiths.

My Lords, I commend the Minister for dealing with three out of four of today’s Questions in such detail. Will he confirm that he will still receive only his basic salary and not a performance bonus? Is that not an example to others?

My Lords, does my noble friend welcome the recovery in Pakistan cricket? Does he further think that it would be a happy conclusion to the present series if we won the last test?

In seeking a positive side of developments in Pakistan, I certainly had in my notes that its cricket was coming along quite well, but like my noble friend I rather hope that in the next round we do a little better.