Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I thank noble Lords from all parts of the House for taking part in today’s short debate. Since 2004, civilians living near the line of control have welcomed and celebrated the sense of peace in both Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, even though there were 75 ceasefire violations and eight people died in an exchange last year. Diplomatic efforts by both India and Pakistan prior to that saw such events as the granting of most favoured nation—MFN—status to Pakistan by India in 1996. Pakistan has made attempts to return this favour to India more recently.
We hear a lot about the terrible Mumbai attacks, allegedly perpetrated by LeT, from Pakistan, which have damaged relations. However, the Indian Home Secretary, Mr RK Singh, on Tuesday said that the intelligence agencies had the names of at least 10 persons involved in the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid and Dargah Sharif blasts who were associated with the terrorist organisation RSS, which I understand is linked to the BJP and is backing Mr Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujurat. He is a leading candidate in the BJP leadership elections and a future Prime Minister of India. That is frightening.
Further tensions have been created since Sunday 6 January this year, when Pakistan reported that one of its soldiers was shot dead by Indian troops. Four more fatalities have occurred, which has further escalated the tension between the two nations. Both sides are laying blame on the other, further escalating tension. Indian’s claim that one of its soldiers had been decapitated by Pakistani soldiers has been totally denied.
I understand that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has contacted the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan and asked it to conduct an inquiry into the breach of the ceasefire in an exchange of fire in the Rampur-Haji Pir area on the line of control. She has denied allegations of tit-for-tat tactics by Pakistan and has urged the media to avoid negative propaganda. She has called for a dialogue and for calm on all sides.
I thank the House of Lords Library for sending the recent press reports which have noted an escalation of cross-border violations and stressed the seriousness of the damage that it will have on bilateral relations between the two powerful nuclear states. I believe that this has huge consequences for regional peace as well as global peace due to the danger of nuclear weapons.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the reports of the ongoing torture, murder and rape of ordinary civilians in Kashmir. A systematic campaign to induce fear is a tool fearlessly employed by Indian forces as a means of social control. I recall that the Foreign Secretary, the right honourable Mr Hague, made a policy statement last year asking the UN to include rape as a “weapon of war” in conflict situations. I pay tribute to the Channel 4 documentary last year, which exposed abuses of human rights and the existence of 2,700 unknown, unmarked and mass graves. These graves contained over 2,943 bodies across 55 villages in Kashmir. This came from research conducted between November 2006 and November 2009 by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir. The report was conducted by an American professor, Angana Chatterji, the renowned human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroz, and their colleagues. The graves contained bodies from murders that took place between 1990 and 2009. They included corpses of victims of massacres and executions committed by Indian military and paramilitary forces. More evidence has since emerged and is being exposed.
This is a clear indication of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Despite there being clear evidence of breaches of human rights, to date, there has been no statement from the International Criminal Court regarding this matter. The ICC prosecutors have been vocal regarding African regimes; but what about serving officers of the Indian Army? At this stage I draw the attention of noble Lords to the petition signed by 25 British MPs, four Peers and four MEPs for the mortal remains of Maqbool Butt, the founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, who was hanged in a jail in Delhi in 1984, to be returned to the family to be buried in Kashmir.
The Minister will be aware of the case of Nepalese Colonel Kumar Lama who was arrested earlier this month and charged in the UK with two counts of torture during his country’s civil war in 2005. On 6 December 2012, the Guardian reported that 500 alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses—from low-ranking policemen to serving Indian army generals—had been involved in shooting, abduction, torture and rape in the Indian-administered Kashmir. A complete list has been published by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Can the Minister confirm whether Her Majesty’s Government would be willing to arrest any of these accused if they ever tried to enter the United Kingdom? Will she consider putting those names on our watch list and banning them entering the United Kingdom? Noble Lords will be familiar with the heavily publicised case of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23 year-old Indian student who was raped and subsequently died. I pay tribute to the Indian public for their collective display of zeal and vigour in their attempt to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice. Their voices were heard in all corners of the globe by people who shared their sympathy and disgust at the crime committed. It is with such spirit that I ask noble Lords today to turn to the suffering and rape of girls and women in Kashmir. Their cries must not go unheard, and the perpetrators of this crime must also be brought to justice. Their suffering must be brought to an end.
There have been recent reports of prisoners of war in Indian prisons from 1965 and 1971. Whether they are prisoners of war from Pakistan or from India, they should all have been released, and should be released now. Kashmir remains one of the world’s oldest and longest militarised zones, with United Nations observers on the line of control since 1949. It must not be forgotten that self-determination has been a struggle fought by Kashmiris long before the struggle for an independent India and Pakistan. This struggle for self-determination has been debated and promised in history by former Prime Minister Pandit Nehru on many occasions, including 19 July 1951 when he said:
“Kashmir has been wrongly looked upon as a prize for India or Pakistan…Kashmir is not a commodity for sale...It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future.”
My observation over the years has only strengthened my view that self-determination talks, confidence-building measures or comprehensive dialogue between India and Pakistan are meaningless without the involvement of Kashmiri leadership.
I have also heard many a time that Britain has a moral responsibility to the people of Kashmir because of its colonial history in that region, yet nothing seems to be done. The United Nations Security Council resolution of 1948 and 1949 promised a free, “fair and impartial plebiscite” for the Kashmiri people. I know that they are old resolutions. I know that they are not enforceable by force, but can the Minister confirm whether Her Majesty's Government recognise these resolutions as valid and legal documents?
Can the Minister confirm whether Her Majesty's Government have raised with the Indian Government the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture and its optional protocols? Can the Government consider suspending military relations with India until India ratifies the UN convention? Is she aware whether the UN special rapporteur on torture to India, including Kashmir, has published any findings in relation to the above?
I want to see better relations between India and Pakistan. I want both peoples to prosper and live in peace. For the sake of millions of poor Indians and poor Pakistanis, I want to see the end of money wasted on nuclear weapons, and instead spent on health and education and on the eradication of poverty and disease. This can be achieved only by resolving the bitter dispute, the long-standing issue of right of self determination for the Kashmiri people. This issue must be resolved before the international community withdraws from Afghanistan or I fear Kashmir may give extremists a rallying point.
My Lords, this subject has been debated many times before both in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. Nearly 10 years ago, when the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, asked a similar Question, the then Government clearly stated that the differences between India and Pakistan were a matter for those two nations. Just last year, the then Foreign Office Minister said that relations between India and Pakistan were a matter for those countries alone and that other countries should not attempt to intervene. However, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for initiating today’s debate, and I am pleased to participate in it.
For over six decades bilateral relations between Pakistan and India have been overshadowed by the Kashmir dispute. The Simla agreement and the Lahore declaration, which are the cornerstones of India-Pakistan relations, commit both countries to resolve all issues peacefully through direct bilateral approaches. There is no question of involving a third country in any aspect of India-Pakistan relations. As neighbours, it is in the interest of both India and Pakistan to work out a relationship which will ensure peace and security for both countries.
I am convinced that peace and prosperity will prevail in India and Pakistan, and it will be a win-win situation if both countries develop trade and trust between them. Despite geographical proximity and the resulting potential for reduced transportation costs, direct bilateral trade has failed to reach its full potential. Although it has increased substantially in recent years, in 2010-11 it remained at $2.6 billion, far below the $40 billion that could be achieved. Estimates of indirect trade through third countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Iran, Afghanistan and others range anywhere between $500 million to $10 billion a year.
In the last decade or so, a number of initiatives have been taken by both countries towards this end. Former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee’s initiatives to bring the two countries together have been carried forward by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. If Prime Minister Vajpayee launched the Delhi-Lahore bus service, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh took steps to increase bilateral trade. I can recount several other peace initiatives taken in this direction.
Sadly, terrorism remains India’s core concern in the relationship with Pakistan. I do not have to remind noble Lords that the terrorism which takes place in India is carried out by infiltrators. Talking about the state of Jammu and Kashmir, I would like to mention that the territory has faced, in some ways, an extraordinary situation over an extended period, primarily due to cross-border terrorism. The main issue, therefore, is the continued infiltration of foreign terrorists from across the border. If terrorism can be stopped, I have no doubt that the peace process between India and Pakistan will start automatically, and I also have no doubts that it will be a sustainable peace process, bringing prosperity to both countries.
In conclusion, I would like to remind your Lordships’ House that we must support democracy and secularism—those most treasured of Britain’s political beliefs and values. Terrorism has no mandate and I hope that the Minister in her reply will rightly condemn such activities as a means of resolving the Kashmir dispute.
My Lords, I begin by thanking my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for securing this debate and introducing it with the passion and eloquence that we have come to associate with him. He has been a good champion of his people and I admire him for that, although I do not agree with most of the things that he has said.
Relations between India and Pakistan have passed through several stages. It was Pandit Nehru who suggested, within five years of taking office, that there should be a confederation between the two countries, a proposal he reiterated on several occasions. Relations have passed through various phases because the two countries do not seem to be able to make up their minds on exactly how much to co-operate, at what pace and in which direction.
In Pakistan there are institutions and agencies that would like the two countries to get together; there are others that think differently. Ever since the military has been a dominant force in Pakistani politics, relations with India have remained rather tense, although I see that Pakistan is beginning to show a more ambiguous, nuanced approach. Given the penetration of the military into the economic sphere, and the fact that the economic sphere offers the opportunity for Pakistani business to flourish, there is a great deal of demand for closer ties between the two countries, including the proposal for giving India most favoured nation status.
At the same time, terrorist attacks such as those on the Indian Parliament and the Taj Hotel in Bombay have been occasions when the relations between the two countries seemed to point in the direction of hostility. In other words, there are gestures in both directions and one will have to see how things move and at what pace.
Our concern today is not to talk so much about India and Pakistan in general—this is not a summit between five noble Lords, one from Pakistan and the rest of us from India—but rather to concentrate on Kashmir. I know that the noble Lord has been preoccupied with Kashmir for quite a while.
I have taken a stand which has not been very popular in the Indian community or the Indian establishment. I have always argued that to talk about Kashmir “belonging” to India is an ambiguous expression. If “Kashmir” refers to land, land can belong to another country. But if “Kashmir” refers to people—which it does—no people can belong to another, short of slavery. Therefore, to say that Kashmir belongs to India is a very dangerous proposition if it is taken to mean that the people of Kashmir can be held hostage by the people of India.
I have wondered how best to handle the question. A plebiscite is not the answer. If I were the Prime Minister of India—which happily I am not—I would go for it because I would know that I would be able to organise a plebiscite but Pakistan would not. The 1948 resolution requires that both sides should withdraw their armed forces. Under Pakistan’s constitution, Pakistani-occupied Kashmir is already an integral part of Pakistan and therefore it is not open to Pakistan to cede Pakistani-occupied Kashmir or allow it to become separate.
It is also the case that in order for the United Nations resolution to be implemented, Kashmir will have to be whole, which means that the territory of Kashmir that Pakistan has ceded to China will have to be restored. In order for the 1948 resolution to go through, Pakistan would have to vacate Pakistani-occupied Kashmir and regain the land it has ceded to China. Neither of these conditions can be met, so India could easily say, “Let’s have a plebiscite”, knowing full well that the other side would not be able to meet those conditions.
There are other reasons why I can imagine India not agreeing, because if you agree to a plebiscite in Kashmir, you might have to do that in the north-east and other parts of India, and that is a non-starter. In addition, if the plebiscite went the other way one could not be entirely sure how the 148 million Muslims in India would respond and no Government could risk the disorder that this might cause. So a plebiscite is not an option.
At the same time, the existing situation is not an option either. It is absolutely right to say that India has behaved badly in Kashmir in recent years. Its forces have been responsible for violations of human rights. However, this has been recognised by the Indian media, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, pointed out. There are plenty of groups in India that have campaigned against this. The National Human Rights Commission of India has campaigned against this. There is a tremendous amount of Indian opposition—people like myself, Arundhati Roy and lots of others have written about it. Within India itself there are enough alternatives available to put pressure on the Government to do something about it—the kind of thing, I am afraid, that does not seem to obtain in Pakistan.
What should we be doing? India cannot continue as it is doing now. At the same time, one cannot expect that the two halves of Kashmir can remain as they are, for all kinds of reasons. For the time being at least, one must respect the line of control; expect and require the Indians to behave much more sensibly in Kashmir, as they used to do but have not done in recent years; and hope that the compulsions of democracy in India and Kashmir will force a course of events resulting in an increasingly relaxed climate in Kashmir and India, and between India and Pakistan, so that the situation can be handled much more intelligently than it is being handled now.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Ahmed for initiating this debate on what is an important subject, which, despite the number of Questions that have been asked in this House and the other place, still does not receive the coverage that it merits in this country and indeed further afield.
Perhaps I may read out an answer that I received to a Parliamentary Question on Kashmir, which is as follows:
“Our position on Kashmir is well known and well established. We believe that the best way forward in Kashmir should involve simultaneous progress on discussions between India and Pakistan, as provided for under the Simla agreement of 1972. There must be improvement in human rights in Kashmir, a genuine political process and a clear cessation of external support for violence in Kashmir”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/3/95; col. 1040.]
That answer was given to me on 1 March 1995 by the then Minister, Mr Tony Baldry. Nearly 20 years further down the road, very little—if anything—has changed, except that the violence appears to have escalated.
I spoke about Kashmir in another place on a number of occasions during the 1990s, largely because the issue had been brought to my attention by the sizeable Kashmiri population in my then constituency of Glasgow Central. Indeed, the community was so insistent that I should see for myself the situation in that part of the world that it arranged visits for me to Azad Kashmir. I visited Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and other places to get a better feel of the situation than through the imploring of my constituents, which I assure noble Lords I received much of. There were also many lobbies in London at that time involving people of Kashmiri origin from many UK cities. That was two decades ago but we do not seem to be any further forward.
My noble friend Lord Ahmed outlined the litany of recent human rights abuses in Kashmir, which was really harrowing. That is not just because of what that must involve on an individual level for so many people, not least in terms of rape, which is possibly the worst act of war that anyone can commit—as my noble friend said, it is an act of war—but it seems that while our Government are raising the issue and answer questions in much the same way today as they did in 1995 and since then, nothing seems to change. What steps is the Minister prepared to say that the Government will take to intervene—I use that word advisedly—and make a serious attempt to bring the two countries together with a view to providing a solution?
The Question that we are discussing today mentions self-determination for the people of Kashmir. The original UN resolution, Security Council Resolution 47, adopted in 1948, mentioned that there should be a plebiscite. A plebiscite would be for all the people of Kashmir and, as I argued in the 1990s, should not ask merely, “Do you want to be under the aegis of Pakistan or do you want to be under the aegis of India?” but “Are you in favour of an independent Kashmir?”. That is a perfectly legitimate question which only the Kashmiri people can answer. Of course, they have never been allowed to answer that question because it has never been put to them. The question of self-determination underpins this whole issue.
There is no need to regurgitate the history of the issue, which I would maintain goes right back to the day when Maharaja Hari Singh, then the ruler of Kashmir, decided to sign the territory over to India. It is interesting that it was India that went to the United Nations in 1948 for the resolution which eventually emerged and it was then India, as history tells us, that prevented it happening because of disputes over Pakistani troops and their withdrawal from Kashmir. I do not seek to blame one country more than another, because that serves no purpose, but the question of a plebiscite or any kind of self-determination seems to have moved right off the agenda. Even the Hurriyat conference stated as long as 10 years ago that it no longer saw that as a realistic possibility. We have reluctantly to accept that, but it does not mean that we should not seek to offer the people of Kashmir the right to have their say in some meaningful form, whatever that should be. Kashmir is today the most militarised territory in the world, with up to 1 million troops stationed there. I do not know whether it is the longest-lasting territorial dispute—perhaps Palestinians would say that theirs is slightly longer, although it dates from about much the same time—but after three major wars, in 1947, 1965 and 1971, and a very tense standoff in 2002 which we thought at one time might lead to nuclear conflict, the need for intense diplomatic efforts on the part of our Government is urgent. I just wonder why more pressure is not put on the Governments of both India and Pakistan. Is it because India is such an emerging and important economic power now? Is it because Pakistan has to be an ally in the fight against terrorism in that part of the world? I do not know, but we should press for some kind of action. If UN Security Council Resolution 47 is now redundant, why not make it at least a starting point and go back to the United Nations to see whether a new one could be framed or some meaningful way of moving things forward via the United Nations could be found.
This Government have a moral responsibility, as did every other Government in Britain over the past 70 years because of the partition of India, and everything flows from that. I say to the Minister, in not a critical but a constructive way, that I hope she will be able to take back to her colleagues in her department the message that something needs to be done. I think that this Government can play a meaningful role in bringing the two countries together and trying to take things forward.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Ahmed for bringing this topic to your Lordships’ House. To the substantial question of what Her Majesty’s Government can do, I think that the answer is not much. As far as possible, Her Majesty’s Government should keep out of this. I remember what happened to my right honourable friend David Miliband when he went to Delhi and made a statement on Kashmir. I had to spend several evenings defending him and telling people, “No, he’s really a good man”.
This is a bilateral issue. Since the Simla Agreement of 1972, as several noble Lords have pointed out, the UN no longer has any locus standi in the matter. This was a mutual agreement between the two countries. Neither the UN military observers nor the UN Security Council as of now has any locus standi in the matter.
I was in Pakistan 15 years ago and spent a whole month in Islamabad. I was very struck that the second question I was asked in every social gathering—after how I was and so on—was, “Why do you not give up Kashmir?” My answer was that I had a British passport, so Kashmir was not mine to give up. They said, “Forget about that. You really have Kashmir and you ought to give it up”. I suddenly realised that India has Kashmir by virtue of the agreement with the old king, Maharaja Hari Singh. Pakistan’s sense of nationhood depends on having Kashmir as part of Pakistan. There is a great asymmetry in feeling about Kashmir in those two countries. India has the bulk of the valley of Kashmir and Pakistan has only a sliver and wants all of it. Flying on Pakistan International Airlines in those days, I saw a map of Pakistan that included all Kashmir in Pakistan.
I can see that there is a very strong feeling in Pakistan that, somehow, something happened and Kashmir should have come to it. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has three components: one is the valley of Kashmir, which is majority-Muslim; then there is the Jammu, which is predominantly Hindu: and then there is Ladakh, a huge area which is mainly Buddhist if anything. When we talk about Kashmir, it is one of the three components of Jammu and Kashmir that we mean. You could not really hold a plebiscite even if it was possible, except on the condition that the votes of the three regions were counted separately and you had different choices, because, ultimately, Pakistan cares only about the valley—which is the most beautiful part as well.
Forgetting about the plebiscite, what we have to do is to maintain the status quo. In both areas—I do not think that there is a paradise of human rights in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or even in Pakistan itself—we have to have civil society people monitor violations of human rights, complain about them, point them out and try to make the Governments involved behave better. In that respect, civil society in the UK can perform a function, but that function cannot be performed by the Government, who would be well advised to stay out.
I have always championed, and written about, an independent Kashmir which would be like Switzerland with a condominium guaranteed by all the major powers plus India and Pakistan. When I put forward this idea in Pakistan, I was violently opposed by people saying, “No, an independent Kashmir will not do. Kashmir is part of Pakistan”. I think that in India also there is considerable opposition.
This is one of those endless disputes, like that between Israel and Palestine, which goes on and there is nothing much that the UN can do about it. We have to make sure that the people involved in that tragedy are assured as peaceful and lawful an existence as possible and hope that India, which is a kind of older brother in this dispute and already has a democratic structure in Jammu and Kashmir, will improve governance in Kashmir. It should try to make sure that violations of human rights which take place are addressed and that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, about which there is a lot of debate in India—not only with respect to Jammu and Kashmir but also with respect to the north-east—is removed in its application from the area of Jammu and Kashmir.
Perhaps something like that can by urged by civil society groups in the UK, because it is already being urged by civil society groups in India. I do not say that that will happen, but we have to keep up the pressure. It is very important on humanitarian grounds that we keep up the pressure and try to improve as much as we can the lives of the people of Kashmir on both sides.
My Lords, I join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Ahmed for instigating this debate. It is a serious matter. There have been three wars over Kashmir between those two countries, and that is bad enough, but they are also nuclear powers, which makes it all the more dangerous. I agree with my noble friends Lord Parekh and Lord Watson, who in different ways in wise observations made the point that the blame game is hardly likely to help any part of the process. We are not immune from it in this House, although I wonder whether it ever helps.
The events of the past couple of weeks have been worrying and threatening. There have been five deaths, one of them an Indian soldier who there is reliable evidence to say was beheaded, although there is much doubt as to who actually did it. Exchanges across the line of control are not uncommon but fatalities are, thankfully, relatively rare. On 11 January, India described the violations and armed infiltrations as “matters of serious concern”. India was “on alert”. Pakistan summoned India’s ambassador to protest over the death of one of its soldiers, and the tone of India’s language was also a matter of objection by the Pakistani Government. Pakistan denied responsibility for any of the attacks, including the beheading. An Indian opposition leader chillingly called for,
“at least 10 heads on the other side”.
My noble friend Lord Ahmed was quite right to deplore the excesses of language that have emerged on both sides. At senior levels in both Governments and military leaderships, more bellicose language is being used. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, while calling for calm, also accused India of “warmongering”. India’s army chief predicted instability and said that in respect of periods of relative calm,
“there can be no business as usual”.
In that light, it is perhaps extraordinary that military commanders have carved out what is at least a de facto truce at the moment. Cross-border firing stopped, I believe, on 16 January. Since then, although both sides are bristling with weapons, no one has crossed or fired across the line of control. How remarkable, in its way, that is. Two senior generals, India’s Vinod Bhatia and Pakistan’s Ashfaq Nadeem, made the truce agreement in a 10-minute telephone conversation, which illustrates what is possible in extreme circumstances. It is hopeful and it is helpful, but it is fragile. Peace, just getting back on track after the Mumbai attacks in 2008, is plainly at risk, and the line of control creates little security.
Our relations with India are obviously very strong. It is a powerful country and, even given some of the terrible threats that my noble friend mentioned to civil society and the safety of women, India is a partner with great stability. The quality of the relationship between our two countries should give us confidence that a dialogue on regional security is always possible. I fully share the point made by my noble friend Lord Parekh about making a pragmatic and sensitive approach.
Relations with Pakistan have become stronger, and they have to, precisely because of the problems faced by the Pakistani nation, which pose critical issues for us. The international community cannot neglect Pakistan, and its security is crucial to peace in the region. It is hugely influential in the region and in the Islamic world more generally. It is, as I said, a nuclear power. Internal violence in 2008 killed at least 2,000 people. If the coalition withdraws from Afghanistan prematurely, that could have enormous consequences for Pakistan.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas have for a long time been the epicentre of global terrorism. AQ and its associates have exploited ungoverned space and instability where they can. Pakistan itself is now robustly tackling the terrorist threat with considerable courage.
Many people in Pakistan live in extreme poverty, as we all know, and the floods have affected a great many more people. It surprises me that the European Union spends just half a euro per person in Pakistan, compared to five to 10 times as much in other parts of the world that are more developed and less crucial to our security. I ask the Government this evening to give greater priority to this issue in discussion with the EU High Representative.
I was very pleased that my noble friend Lord Ahmed mentioned the Channel 4 documentary on the mass graves. I thought it a powerful indictment, and part of a tradition of extremely powerful Channel 4 documentaries. Like the Sri Lanka documentary, which was powerful, accurate, verified by Ofcom and the basis for UN decisions to condemn war crimes by the Sri Lankan Government, I believe that we have another documentary that should have a similar impact. I have long asserted, and I assert again, that Channel 4 has qualities that we should all look to in order to see that they are shared by some of the rest of our media and recognised by many international partners.
It is plainly not possible in a short debate to do full justice to this issue. It would be wrong to ignore the possibilities of intense diplomatic effort—quite rightly called for by my noble friend Lord Watson—by neglecting the potential engagement of Ban Ki-Moon. That effort, if it is to be made, should be made now before fragility across the line of control becomes sustained conflict. Kashmiri independence is and remains, as the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, said, a matter likely to be solved only through bilateral negotiations in the region. My noble friend Lord Desai was also quite right to say that there is a very limited amount that we can do.
What we can do is this. We can say to the United Nations in friendly terms—this will be a matter where there is no difference across the Floor of this Chamber—that we detect the early signs of what may be very much greater instability with much more dire consequences. This is a moment when it can potentially intervene with some benefit.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for calling this debate on the peace process between India and Pakistan and the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. He has a long record of raising this issue and has consistently highlighted the concerns that he raised again today. Before I respond to his specific Question on India-Pakistan relations and Kashmir, I would like to put this discussion in context by setting out the current state of the United Kingdom’s relationship with both India and Pakistan.
India and Pakistan are longstanding and important friends of the UK and we enjoy close relations with both countries. Our unique historical and cultural ties still bind us, as do our important Indian and Pakistani diaspora communities, some of whom have taken part in the debate today. I knew, when I saw the speakers’ list, including four British Indians and one British Kashmiri, that this debate was going to be extremely interesting.
The United Kingdom is committed to an enduring relationship with Pakistan built on mutual trust, mutual respect and our many shared interests. Both our Governments are committed, through our enhanced strategic dialogue, to strengthening practical co-operation across the bilateral spectrum in areas such as trade, development, security, culture and education.
The Prime Minister called this a “Naya Aghaz”, a new beginning, forming an unbreakable bond of friendship between our two countries. Our relationship is broad and deep. There are many challenges that we agree that we need to deal with together. Only last week, as the Minister responsible for Pakistan, I spoke at the United Nations Security Council debate on counterterrorism, initiated and chaired by Pakistan.
My noble friend Lord Loomba raised the issue of terrorism. We also accept that Pakistan is on the front line of terrorism, making bigger sacrifices in fighting terrorism than any other country. As the Prime Minister has said, when confronting terrorism, Pakistan’s enemy is our enemy. In Britain we understand the terrible losses that terrorism has inflicted upon Pakistan, and we feel them deeply too.
In relation to India, the United Kingdom enjoys an equally strong relationship—a relationship founded on a broad range of mutual interests, from education and climate change to security and defence. The Government have prioritised our relationship with India. When the Prime Minister made his first overseas visit to India in July 2010, he made clear that we would build a stronger, wider and deeper partnership. I can inform the House that he intends to visit again this year to strengthen further what is becoming an increasingly important relationship.
There have also been an increasing number of other high-level visits and exchanges over the past two years to both countries, including the Foreign Secretary’s visit and visits from the Department for International Development. I have had the pleasure of visiting both India and Pakistan. In 2011 I visited India for the first time, going to both Delhi and Amritsar and holding meetings with, among others, India’s now Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid.
As I have said before, we have in this country large diaspora communities from both India and Pakistan that have made enormous contributions in this country. In many ways they have continued to discuss these matters, as we have seen here in your Lordships’ House. It is clear to me that the UK enjoys strong bilateral relationships with India and Pakistan, and that we are working in partnership with both countries to make them even stronger.
I would now like to set out this Government’s assessment of India-Pakistan relations and the right of self-determination in Kashmir. We welcome the renewed engagement between India and Pakistan in recent years; we are particularly encouraged by the substantive progress on liberalising trade and visa arrangements. We hope that both sides will continue to take further steps to help the growth of both countries’ economies. It is this basic normalisation of trade relationships and contacts between ordinary citizens on both sides that will help assist other programmes of confidence-building measures. I was pleased to see the programme between the Jang Group and the Times of India called Aman ki Asha, which I thought went some way towards normalising relationships between the two countries.
We also welcome the number of high-profile, high-level engagements and regular official talks between both sides. The visit by President Zardari, during which he met Prime Minister Singh, and the meetings between the countries’ Foreign, Finance, Home and Commerce Ministers have continued to build the relationship. We recognise the importance of a strong relationship between India and Pakistan, not only for the good of their bilateral relationship but for regional stability.
The position of our successive Governments in relation to Kashmir was animated well by the noble Lord, Lord Watson. On Kashmir, our position has always been that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation there, which takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. I fully understand the strength of feeling about the dispute among many people in Britain. We are aware of the level of parliamentary interest and the all-party parliamentary group discussions on this issue. However, I believe that any attempts by the United Kingdom or other third parties, however well intentioned, to mediate or prescribe solutions would hinder progress. It is for the two countries to move towards resolving these issues directly. That is why successive British Governments, including the previous Labour Government, have taken the position that they have.
This Government continue to monitor developments in Kashmir closely, including the political, security and human rights situation on both sides of the line of control. We are all too familiar with the violence that has plagued Kashmir for far too long. It has affected the security and prosperity of ordinary Kashmiris. That is why we welcome peaceful dialogue to resolve all differences. We are concerned about the incidents that have taken place over the past fortnight on both sides of the line of control in Kashmir. Regrettably, those incidents caused the loss of life of soldiers on the line of control, as well as the suspension of cross-border trade.
We are encouraged by the recent steps taken to de-escalate tension and hope that all sides will continue to exercise restraint. British officials in New Delhi and Islamabad are in close contact with the Governments in both capitals on this issue. We also welcome their commitments to dialogue and to not allowing these incidents to derail the positive developments in bilateral relations. The UK is committed to supporting efforts to promote peace-building, which will help bring about stability and prosperity in the region. Our resources from the Conflict Pool will continue to support work towards this objective. In 2011-12, Her Majesty’s Government spent approximately £1.6 million, through their Conflict Pool, on regional stability programmes.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, raised the issue of human rights. We take that issue extremely seriously. He also raised India’s ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture. Noble Lords will be familiar with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review, which covers every country in the world. In the universal periodic review of India in May, we recommended that India expedite the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and its optional protocol, and that it adopt robust domestic legislation to this effect. We have not raised the proposed visit by the UN special rapporteur but we understand that the visit has been postponed until after the ratification of the convention against torture.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, also raised the issue of Colonel Lama from Nepal and asked whether the UK would take similar action against those accused of torture in Kashmir. In accordance with the UK’s international obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture, and provided that there is sufficient admissible evidence and that it is in the public interest, the UK can take jurisdiction over torture wherever it is committed in the world. A decision would clearly need to be taken on a case-by-case basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, raised the Channel 4 documentary, “Kashmir’s Torture Trail”. We are aware of that documentary on Kashmir. We monitor developments in Kashmir closely and regularly raise concerns about the human rights situation on the line of control. We welcome the fact that Prime Minister Singh has made it clear that human rights abuses by security forces in Kashmir will not be tolerated and note that the Indian Government have started an investigation by the Jammu and Kashmir state human rights commission. We welcome the initiative by Prime Minister Singh to appoint three interlocutors to engage with a wide range of interested parties to help resolve the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir. The Indian Government have recently published the interlocutors’ report; it sets out a range of confidence-building measures, including addressing human rights concerns. I understand that the Indian Government will take a decision on how to implement that report after a period of consultation.
It is clear that a resolution of the dispute over Kashmir must be for India and Pakistan to find, while taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. We welcome the progress to date to build confidence between the two sides but recognise, too, that much more remains to be done. The United Kingdom will continue to encourage India and Pakistan to take further steps to strengthen their relationship, but we recognise that the pace and scope is clearly for them to determine.