To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of peace and stability in the south Asian region, particularly in the light of the current tension and cross-border firing between India and Pakistan at the Kashmir Line of Control.
My Lords, we are concerned about the recent incidents that have taken place on both sides of the line of control and international border between India and Pakistan. Our long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution that takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the United Kingdom to prescribe a solution or to mediate in finding one.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. We know that India and Pakistan have been to war three times over Kashmir. If any of these tensions escalate into another war, now that both countries are nuclear powers, that war could well be nuclear. Hence, is it not incumbent on the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, including Great Britain, to help to de-escalate the tension across the line of control, demilitarise the Kashmir region and help to create a conducive environment for the Kashmiri people to have their right to self-determination, as we have seen given to the Scottish people in recent weeks?
My Lords, I recognise my noble friend’s family background. He was raised in the Pakistani-administered state of Kashmir, so I realise that he has long-standing experience and ties. He has also worked hard for Kashmiri charities in this country, and I admire that. It is indeed in everyone’s interest that there is peace, security and prosperity in south Asia. The UK will do all that it can to encourage India and Pakistan to take the steps necessary to strengthen their relationship. However, the pace and scope of their dialogue has to be for them to determine, not for others.
My Lords, in the light of Britain’s neutral position on this matter, what is the Government’s position on the role of British nationals of Pakistani origin fighting for the Pakistani army, and British nationals of Indian origin fighting in the Indian army?
My Lords, the position of the British Government on those who decide to take up arms overseas is determined on a case-by-case basis. Clearly, British nationals have the right to travel overseas. My noble friend asks the question against the background of the severe situation in Syria and Iraq. I hope and assume that she is not in any way trying to draw a parallel between British people who are engaged in any activities in India, Pakistan, the Indian-administered part of Kashmir or the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir and those who are engaged in the horrific activities in Syria and Iraq.
My Lords, this week is Inter Faith Week in which we explore commonalities between our different faiths and look to knock down these false barriers of belief that divide people up in the way that was done at partition. Bearing that in mind, will the Minister agree that the partition of the subcontinent on a religious basis—a basis of false, irreconcilable religious differences—was a huge mistake?
My Lords, the agreements reached between India and Pakistan were for them to reach and not for the British Government to criticise, but the noble Lord raises serious questions about the way in which—throughout all human history—there has been strife either based on religion or for which religion has been used as a reason. He brings a very measured and reflective point to this debate today and I am grateful to him.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that elections are no substitute for a free, fair and impartial plebiscite as promised by the United Nations in 1948 and 1949, and therefore that the forthcoming elections in Indian-administered Kashmir would not be a substitute for that outstanding promise of the United Nations, which should be given to the people of Kashmir?
My Lords, there is a long history indeed to the dispute; that has already been drawn to our attention. Subsequent to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 47, there have been further developments. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, will know of the Simla Agreement which now forms, as I understand it, the basis of the negotiations between India and Pakistan. It is clear that India and Pakistan themselves have the opportunity to take peaceful measures bilaterally to resolve the issue, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. There are elections ahead, and they have always in the past been judged by the international community to be free and fair.
My Lords, understanding that this is a very sensitive issue, will the Minister reflect that over the many decades which have passed, the British Government have frequently intervened to try to get some sense into a difficult situation, and that we should not set our face entirely against trying to play some sort of mediation role or at least some sort of role to stimulate proper development?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point; there are ways in which we can assist both India and Pakistan to be more prosperous and to have a greater understanding of their role in international society. We can also discuss with both countries their attitude towards human rights—and I can say that that does go ahead. We are certainly very active in negotiations on trade matters with both countries. For example, my noble friend Lady Verma was in India only last week on just that matter, so I am grateful to the noble Lord for those points.