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Volume 386: debated on Monday 10 June 2002

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3.31 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the situation in India and Pakistan.

Intense diplomatic efforts and decisions made in recent days by the Governments of India and Pakistan give grounds for some optimism, and tensions have eased a little. None the less, with 1 million men under arms on either side of the line of control in a high state of readiness, the risks of a conflict remain significant. As both countries are in possession of nuclear weapons, the potential consequences for the region and for the wider world are devastating.

Let me give some brief background, then set out the action that has been taken by Her Majesty's Government, working particularly with the Government of the United States.

The territory of Kashmir has been the subject of dispute since independence in 1947. Three major wars have been fought between India and Pakistan—in 1948 to 1949, 1965 and 1971—and in 1999 there was a particularly bloody battle in Kargil on the Indian side of the line of control. The people of Kashmir have been caught in the middle of that, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives and even more people displaced. There has long been serious concern in the international community about the human rights deficit in Jammu and Kashmir and about the conduct of some elections there.

During the last decade or so, the character of the conflict has changed as a result of the incursion of armed militants across the line of control into India from the Pakistani side. A number of terrorist organisations—including Laskhar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harakat Mujahideen, each of which I proscribed when I was Home Secretary—have been at the forefront of violent activity in the region. India has long charged that such terrorism has had the covert support of successive Pakistani Governments and, in particular, of the main intelligence agency in Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate—ISID. Her Majesty's Government accept that there is a clear link between the ISID and those groups.

Towards the end of last year, India suffered two serious terrorist outrages. On 1 October, more than 40 people died in an assault on the state assembly in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. On 13 December, the Indian Parliament building in New Delhi was attacked, leaving 14 people dead. In response to intensive diplomatic pressure, including the visit to the region by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, President Musharraf delivered a speech on 12 January in which he pledged:
"No organisation will be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of Kashmir".
From early May, when the heavy winter snows began to melt, there was nevertheless an increase in terrorist activity in Jammu and Kashmir and a rise in levels of infiltration across the line of control. That renewed violence included an attack on 14 May on a passenger bus and residential quarters of the Indian army base at Kaluchak, killing 34 people, mainly women and children. A week later, the prominent moderate Kashmiri politician, Abdul Ghani Lone, was assassinated.

The dispute between India and Pakistan is at root a bilateral matter which can only be resolved by direct dialogue between the parties. But it is a dispute with potent international implications, both because of the potential scale of any military action, including the possible use of nuclear weapons, and because, post-11 September, new imperatives have been imposed on all member states by United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 to take effective action to counter terrorism.

Since last autumn and particularly since the resurgence of violence in recent weeks, the conflict has been high on the international community's agenda. There has been intensive diplomatic activity from the United States and the United Kingdom Governments, Russia, China, other European Union and G8 countries and, of course, from countries in the region. As part of this co-ordinated diplomatic effort, I visited Pakistan and India on 28 and 29 May. I had discussions in Pakistan with President Musharraf and Foreign Minister Sattar, and in India with Prime Minister Vajpayee, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, Home Minister Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes and the Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi.

In Islamabad, I underlined to President Musharraf the need for Pakistan to take visible, decisive and verifiable steps to seal the line of control; to stop supplies to militant groups; to help restrain the violent activities of those groups; and to close the militant training camps on Pakistan's side of the line of control.

In my meetings in Delhi with Prime Minster Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh, I stressed that as Pakistan had demonstrated that it was taking the necessary steps to clamp down on terrorism, India should respond positively. A number of possible steps to reduce tension were discussed with both sides. I also underlined to the Indian Government once again the need for them to take steps to improve the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir and to ensure free, fair and inclusive elections in Jammu and Kashmir this autumn.

Before my visit, Commissioner Patten of the EU visited the region and held discussions with both sides. Last week at a regional conference in Almaty, both Russian President Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin met separately with President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken at length to both sides, and to Presidents Bush and Putin, about the situation.

Following my trip, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage visited both countries last week. Mr. Armitage was given a categorical undertaking by President Musharraf that sealing the line of control would be "permanent". The Government of India described that as a "step forward'" and said that they would respond "appropriately and positively." Separately, the US and UK Governments have assessed that there appears to have been a significant reduction in incursions across the line of control since towards the end of May.

I am pleased to tell the House that when I spoke this morning to my Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh, he told me that India was announcing today that restrictions on overflights from Pakistan over India were to be lifted, and that the name of the next Indian high commissioner to Pakistan was being made public. I also understand that the western and eastern Indian fleets are returning to port. We have, therefore, seen both sides take first steps in the right direction, but the position is still precarious. Terrorism is still a threat and the situation will continue for some time to require the engagement of the international community.

Like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Putin, President Bush has made it clear that he intends to remain personally involved. I should like to express my thanks and appreciation to US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage for their indefatigable work in trying to help to resolve the crisis.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be visiting India and Pakistan this week. The international efforts against terrorism and the Kashmir crisis will be an important agenda item for the meeting of G8 Foreign Ministers in Whistler, western Canada, which I shall be attending later this week. Fellow EU Foreign Ministers are discussing the matter today.

The present crisis has, of course, had direct consequences for many UK citizens and their families. The UK has up to 3 million citizens who are of south Asian origin. As Secretary of State, I have to balance our wider foreign policy interests with my direct duty of care for all UK citizens in the region and for all British Government staff and their families, whether UK based or locally engaged. In response to specific terrorists threats, I decided on 22 May to reduce the level of staffing at British Government posts in Pakistan. At the same time, our travel advice was amended to advise against all but essential travel to Pakistan. As the House was about to rise, there was no opportunity for me to make a statement. I wrote to all colleagues in this House and the other place to set out the changes that had been made and set out in a separate letter what we are seeking to do on the issue of Kashmir.

As tensions increased between the two countries, I announced during the recess, on 31 May, a drawdown of less essential British staff and their families from all posts in Pakistan and from New Delhi and Mumbai in India, and also issued new travel advice for India. Last Wednesday, 5 June, I announced further strengthening of our travel advice in respect of both countries.

We have been working hard to keep the south Asian communities here properly informed of what we are doing and to understand and respond to their anxieties. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary therefore met representatives of those communities on 29 May to listen to their concerns. As soon as I returned from the sub-continent on 30 May, I held similar meetings, including some with a number of colleagues from this House, to explain what I had been doing in New Delhi and Islamabad.

As every hon. Member knows, our high commissions in New Delhi and Islamabad are among the busiest visa and consular operations in the world. Throughout this difficult period, we have maintained a service in India, albeit at a reduced level. Visa and consular operations in Pakistan had to be temporarily suspended, but I am pleased to tell the House that a limited service resumed last Thursday, 6 June.

Notwithstanding the more hopeful signs, the situation in the region remains dangerous. The problems between India and Pakistan cannot satisfactorily be resolved by military means. That would only lead to more suffering and potentially have devastating consequences for everyone. Working with our international partners, particularly the United States, our diplomatic efforts are there to encourage both sides to take the necessary steps to end terrorism, reduce tensions and enter into effective dialogue. Only then can we hope to break the cycle of crises and secure a permanent peaceful settlement to the issue of Kashmir.

In thanking the Foreign Secretary, may I first congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), on his return to the Front Bench, and wish him well in his new role?

This is clearly a period of the greatest anxiety for the people of the sub-continent. However, there are millions of our own fellow British citizens in this country whose family origins lie in the sub-continent, in India, Pakistan and Kashmir itself. This is a time of special concern for them in respect of their friends and loved ones in the region, and our thoughts are very much with them. I hope that the most recent reports saying that there is some easing of tensions will provide some comfort.

Shortly after the events of 11 September, my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary warned that any instability between India and Pakistan was one of the greatest threats that the world might face in future. Sadly, it appears that that warning has now been realised. I welcome the Foreign Secretary's steps to withdraw staff and advise British citizens and those holding dual passports to leave India and Pakistan. What estimate has his Department made of the number of those warned who have taken the Foreign Office advice? What ongoing measures is his Department taking to ensure that British citizens abroad are kept informed of the unfolding situation?

There have been press reports over the weekend saying that the Government are making contingency plans for a considerable number of refugees coming to this country in the event of war. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that; indicate what arrangements are being made and for how many people; and tell us where such refugee camps would be established?

We have heard the threat of clashes and skirmishes and the rhetoric of "no first strike". Surely, the only acceptable language is that of "no war." The lack of a nuclear doctrine was raised before the Foreign Secretary's visit to the region. What progress did he make in establishing such a doctrine between the two countries?

During the cold war, there were direct communications links between the Kremlin and Washington at the highest level. If, as we understand, they do not exist in this case, surely every encouragement should be given to the two countries to establish a hotline without delay. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the risk of nuclear conflagration means that the matter is now no longer purely domestic, or even bilateral, but has been effectively internationalised? As we know from Chernobyl, terrible consequences will be felt well beyond the sub-continent.

Last week, the Secretary of State for Defence did not explicitly rule out UK troops being part of an international force to patrol the disputed line of control, the aim being to reassure India that serious attempts are being made to bring to an end guerrilla infiltration. Is the Foreign Secretary aware of estimates of how many troops would be required to patrol the line effectively? The Indian Government have proposed a joint patrol force only. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Secretary of State for Defence about the possibility of internationalising the force, and has he received any understanding of what British forces might be available, especially given the extent to which our armed forces are already committed abroad? What is the current state of discussions with the Indian and Pakistani Governments about that possibility?

The UK Government were signatories to the United Nations resolutions of 1948 and 1950 which, inter alia, called for Kashmiri opinion to be tested. What is the British Government's present view of that matter?

Those are important issues which the Foreign Secretary needs to clarify. We welcome his involvement in encouraging both sides to take a step back from conflict and his visit to the region, but it is of the utmost significance that the US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has been in the region, followed by Donald Rumsfeld, whose visit took place this week. The US has a crucial role to play. Equally, we welcome President's Putin leadership and involvement, and note the role that the other regional power, China, is playing, given its relationships with Pakistan and India.

Following the terrible events of 11 September, President Musharraf won many admirers by his statesmanlike response to those events and subsequent events in Afghanistan, despite intense domestic pressures and difficulties. Equally, the people of India have every reason to feel affronted by terrorist attacks on their own territory and especially on their own Parliament. For more than 50 years, India has been the world's greatest democracy. It therefore seems tragic that Kashmir, the most beautiful corner of the sub-continent, continues to act as the catalyst for mistrust, conflict and war.

With the apparent easing of tensions, it is to be hoped that high-level diplomatic representation can be re-established quickly in situ in Delhi and Islamabad, leading to a direct dialogue. We shall of course support any genuine attempt to broker a peaceful settlement of the dispute. In their endeavours to achieve that, with our allies and friends, the Government have our full support.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for the support he offers. On a personal level, I am also grateful for his welcome back to the Front Bench to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien). Since he, too, is sitting on the Front Bench, I should like to express my appreciation to the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), for the way in which he dealt with his portfolio as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister.

The hon. Gentleman asked several specific questions, each of which I shall endeavour to answer. I cannot say precisely how many British citizens have returned. We have given clear advice which has been relayed not only in the United Kingdom, where it will have been heard by relatives and friends of those who are in India and Pakistan, but in the media in both India and Pakistan. The advice is also available worldwide on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. Advice in respect of Pakistan has been issued not once, not twice, but three times, and has been upgraded each time; and advice in respect of India has been issued not once but twice. I think that no potential visitor to India or Pakistan or British citizen in either country can be unaware of the advice that we have given.

The hon. Gentleman asked about contingency plans. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in association with the Home Office and other relevant Departments, maintains contingency plans on evacuation for about 100 countries. Obviously, countries in the sub-continent are among them; the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go into details, except to say that if and when we judge it appropriate to make those contingency plans active and public, of course the House will be the first to know. At the moment, while we obviously have to prepare for all contingencies, we live in hope that maybe—maybe—the better news over the weekend can be sustained.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there has been a well-developed nuclear doctrine between India and Pakistan. While each side is developing what it describes as a nuclear doctrine, there is nothing like the level of sophistication nor anything like the failsafe measures that were developed by the Warsaw pact and NATO countries during the cold war. One lesson to be drawn from the history of east and west Europe is that as a result of the raising of the bar against the use of nuclear weapons by either side, east and west—the Warsaw pact and NATO—eventually decided to resolve their intense disputes and arguments not by resorting to nuclear weapons but by peaceful means. Who would have thought, even 15 years ago, that Russia would now be effectively part of NATO? That is what we have achieved by peaceful means; we could never have done so by nuclear exchange.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the number of troops patrolling the line of control. In all our discussions, the main proposition has been for joint patrols of Indian and Pakistani troops. Given the dangers on the line of control, its length and the terrain, that is effectively the only candidate for patrolling that difficult territory. If we were asked to provide military advisers, not infantry to patrol the line of control, of course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence would consider that but, as he has made clear on a number of occasions, no request has been made, still less have any decisions been taken.

The hon. Gentleman's last point was about the status of the United Nations Security Council resolutions passed in 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951. For the benefit of hon. Members, I shall arrange for those to be placed in the Library in a single form. It is worth while right hon. and hon. Members on both sides reading the original texts, because there are myths around them which are not sustained by the texts themselves. Suffice it to say that Pakistan believes that the Security Council resolutions should still be implemented; India says that the Simla agreement of 1972 superseded them. As for the British Government, we think that there is not a huge amount of point in getting involved in a historiographical exercise about which position is correct. We have to deal with the here and now and how we can best resolve the dispute, which is bilateral, but has obvious international implications. It is therefore right that the international community has been engaged in the way that it has.

May I tell the Foreign Secretary that neither in his analysis nor in his cautiously optimistic conclusions do I find anything with which to disagree? I commend him too for his sure-footedness in recent weeks in circumstances in which, as his predecessor found out, it is not difficult to become embroiled in controversy. He was right to underline to both Governments, as he did again today, the apocalyptic consequences of a nuclear exchange between them, which would not—indeed, could not—be contained within their own borders. Do not those events underline the pressing urgency to bring both India and Pakistan into the nuclear non-proliferation regime and, in particular, to persuade both of them to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty?

Finally, does the Foreign Secretary understand that in recent weeks the policy of Her Majesty's Government on arms sales has, to put it mildly, seemed to lack coherence? When the crisis began to reach critical levels, why did the Government not announce an immediate suspension of arms sales both to India and to Pakistan, and seek to persuade others to do the same?

First, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his welcome for the actions that have been taken. That is much appreciated. On such a sensitive and difficult issue, it is extremely important for any Foreign Secretary to have the support of those on his own side of the Chamber, which I hope may be forthcoming, as well as the support that has been forthcoming from the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), the official Opposition spokesman, and from the Liberal Democrats.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the comprehensive test ban treaty. I hope that from this terrible and potentially devastating situation we may be able to get some good. We want to encourage both sides by bilateral dialogue to seek to resolve the long-standing dispute. In the past, there have been discussions that failed in the end, as they did in Agra last year, but came quite close to agreement. We hope that the parties will agree among themselves on the appropriate forum for such bilateral discussion and, in the end, resolution of the issue.

We hope, too, that both parties will consider joining the various international treaties, which in turn have helped to make the signatories much safer from the risks of nuclear war than they were before.

On the issue of arms sales, the then Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) in a detailed written answer of 15 March, set out that we were further restricting the sales of any sort of obvious nuclear material, or dual-use material, that could be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in respect of both India and Pakistan. There was widespread approbation for that decision.

On the wider issue, the consolidated criteria that have been approved by the House, which are European Union and national criteria, contain sufficient flexibility, in our view, not to require there to be imposed a blanket arms embargo. There is every coherence in these criteria. For that reason, we have resisted such an embargo.

Given the potential conflict, I fully understand those who ask why there is not a blanket arms embargo. I have heard no argument that demonstrates how an embargo by the UK, or even by the European Union, will be different from what is set out in the consolidated criteria, and could help to resolve the crisis. I sense that the way in which we resolve the crisis will be, I hope, the way in which we have been seeking to resolve it, which is by intensive diplomatic measures.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which sets out a positive and sensible approach. I have genuine concerns because my village, where I was born and educated, is only about 60 miles from the border with Pakistan.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to comment on the recent reports regarding the Kashmir international relief fund and the Regent's Park mosque, which have been collecting funds for Islamic fundamentalists, and reports that President Musharraf is unable to prevent incursions into Kashmir by fundamentalists? What are the prospects of peace between India and Pakistan?

I understand my hon. Friend's huge knowledge and experience of the area from which he comes, which is so close to the border. If any hon. Member, or anyone else, has evidence that anybody resident or in this country is raising funds for causes that are banned by the Terrorism Act 2000 or by the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police will be pleased to hear from them. Such evidence will be fully investigated.

As for President Musharraf's position, I said in my statement that he set out clearly in his speech of 12 January that no organisation would be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of Kashmir. He has taken a series of actions since then to bear down on terrorist organisations, three of which I personally proscribedbanned—when I was Home Secretary. That proscription was endorsed by an overwhelming majority in the House.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with my constituents of Pakistani and Kashmiri origin that there will be no just and lasting final settlement in Kashmir until the people who are caught in the tragic situation there are allowed to determine their own future, and that that cannot be a matter for India and Pakistan alone?

The resolution of this dispute does lie in the hands of Pakistan and India alone. How they resolve it is another matter, and of course we hope that in seeking to resolve it they will take full account of the wishes of the people in Kashmir. One of the reasons why we have sought to encourage the Government of India to ensure that there is a climate in which free and fair elections can take place in Jammu and Kashmir is our wish to ensure the provision of a democratic outlet for people's concerns in those regions.

In this conflict, the people who are being used as table tennis balls in a game of power politics are the Kashmiri people. It is time that India and Pakistan stopped using them in that way and messing around with people's lives.

We have lost more than 70,000 people in Kashmir. Others have been lost through acts of terrorism. I condemn all the acts of terrorism, and all the human rights abuses and violations, that have taken place. Unless and until we move to secure international action, we will not resolve the issue. Will the Home Secretary—[interruption]—consider resolving it by means of third-party negotiation, and pressing both Governments to do something?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the compliment, but I assume he was addressing me in my current rather than my previous capacity.

My hon. Friend is right to say that more than 70,000 people have lost their lives in this terrible conflict. Those people were members of all religions—Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the statesmanlike position he has taken in saying that it is the Kashmiri people who have been caught up in the conflict; but because it is a dispute between two sovereign nations, it can only be resolved through direct dialogue between those two sovereign nations.

Obviously the dispute has substantial implications for the international community, which is why we have been taking the action we have been taking. As I have said, however, it is a direct territorial dispute, and it is through direct dialogue that a resolution is possible. If the two nations seek outside intervention or conciliation of any kind, of course the international community will stand ready to offer it; but it must be a decision that they take.

May I ask a question arising from the Foreign Secretary's helpful statement? What is the Government's policy on the continued existence of terrorist training camps? What will be their approach should President Musharraf not respond positively to urgent representations made to him by the Foreign Secretary for the camps to be closed immediately?

United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 imposes clear obligations on all United Nations member states to take action in respect of terrorism in their territories. That plainly includes the operation of training camps in which terrorists are trained. We look to the Government of Pakistan to take effective action in respect of those camps, and we are monitoring the situation.

The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not speculate on what action may or may not be taken if—and we do not think this will happen—President Musharraf does not follow through the undertakings he has given.

While I welcome some reduction in the tensions in the area, I think my right hon. Friend will agree that we cannot walk away and ignore the situation again, or we will be brought to the brink of a nuclear war in just a few months' or years' time.

Many of my constituents are Kashmiris. Over the years, I have not heard one of them say anything other than that they want the right to determine their own future, and they want it through the United Nations resolution of 1948. Is it not time we all started to ensure that this goes back to the UN, that the international community remains involved, and that the Kashmiris have the right to a plebiscite?

My hon. Friend is correct to say that we cannot walk away and ignore the situation. During the earlier part of this year, there was intense diplomatic activity to try to resolve the immediate crisis over Christmas and the new year. Then crises elsewhere in the world, particularly in the middle east, tended to take over the headlines and to consume the immediate concerns of Foreign Ministries around the world. It is extremely important that the international community stays engaged in this matter.

I understand what my hon. Friend's constituents feel because I have a great many constituents of Kashmiri origin, but we have to deal with the world as it is. To suggest or imply that the dispute can be resolved by an argument about the history is to suggest to the people who have been the victims of all this conflict that it is through the history that a solution lies. May I give a parallel example? If we put the adversaries in Northern Ireland in a room, they will argue until the cows come home about the history. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his predecessor sought to get people to look forward rather than looking back. If there is to be a resolution of the Kashmiri dispute, it can only be by looking forward and by a direct dialogue between those two sovereign nations, India and Pakistan—with international encouragement, of course, but that is what has to happen.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the capacity for direct diplomatic intervention by the United Kingdom is somewhat restricted by the fact that all sides in the conflict allocate to the UK, the ex-colonial power, a certain responsibility for the conflict in which they are engaged? Given that he thinks that the United Nations resolutions are unclear on the question of self-determination for the people of Kashmir, will he give his interpretation of what those UN resolutions mean? In that respect, he might find that the history of this matter is rather more important than he thinks.

Can the Foreign Secretary point the way forward in the current situation? He asks why it might be important not to sell conventional arms to either side in the conflict. May not our arguments for peace carry more moral force if we were not simultaneously selling people weapons of war? Might not that moral force be a factor in increasing the right hon. Gentleman's persuasiveness in these matters? If he does not think that, I fear the moral compass on the basis of which he has acted.

Neither in India nor in Pakistan were my hosts impolite enough to mention Britain's less than entirely glorious role in the initiation of this dispute. The hon. Gentleman is right to acknowledge it, but it has not so far affected our capacity to encourage both parties to resolve the matter peacefully.

On the UN Security Council resolutions, I think the best service I can provide the hon. Gentleman and the House is to make those available in the Library of the House, and I shall do so. They extend, particularly one of the key ones, to a great many pages and hundreds if not thousands of words.

On the issue of arms sales, I may be wrong but I do not recall approving a single arms control licence in the past two months—neither does my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, so the assumption that the hon. Gentleman makes is inaccurate. Since we have agreed robust national and EU criteria for arms control, it seems that that is the appropriate way in which to run our arms control system, rather than by some ad hoc process. The simple truth is that we have one of the most effective and thorough systems of arms control of any country in the world.

Having visited Jammu and Kashmir on a number of occasions been to both sides of the line of control and seen the festering misery in the refugee camps of Kashmiri Muslims in Azad Kashmir and of Hindu Pandits in Jammu, may I put it to my right hon. Friend that whatever force India is capable of deploying, there is no chance whatever of the dispute being settled until the Kashmiris' problem is settled? There is no more chance of its being solved by leaving it to India and Pakistan alone than there is of the middle east problem being solved by leaving that to Israel and Palestine alone.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm the policy of his predecessor, whereby the United Nations Security Council resolutions would remain valid? Will he also make it clear that until India is ready to negotiate, there is no possibility of its becoming a permanent member of the Security Council?

I further ask my right hon. Friend to take note of what Adya Rajkotia-Luthra, a seven-year-old Hindu girl, reportedly said a few days ago:
"I wish I could go to Vajpayee's house and ask him not to have a nuclear war over Kashmir. I would also tell him to settle Kashmir and stop all talk of war".
Are those not the most sensible and wise words to come out of Delhi for a long time?

As I have already said, I accept that the conflict has caused the death and suffering of thousands of Muslims and Hindus, and of thousands of Sikhs as well. My right hon. Friend has a particular criticism of the Government of India, and that is his privilege, but I should point out that there is a great deal to be said on both sides about the history of this conflict. For example, the fact cannot be avoided that over a period of years, successive Governments of Pakistan have, through their Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, encouraged and funded terrorists—otherwise known as freedom fighters—to make incursions across the line of control as outsiders in that dispute, and to engage in mayhem and terrorism. I understand why many people of Kashmiri origin—including some of my own constituents—do not like to acknowledge that reality, but this House must acknowledge it, as the international community does.

As to the Government of India's becoming a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, that has long been the position of Her Majesty's Government; indeed, it was the position of my predecessor.

I strongly commend the Foreign Secretary's statement, but I should point out that it is only in the most serious situations that a Government should ask their citizens to leave another country. If that is done in any other circumstances, it devalues the product to such an extent that in future dangerous situations, people might not leave the country concerned, and some might even travel to it. Given that we have seen on our television screens expatriates in Delhi and elsewhere suggesting that there is no need to leave, is the right hon. Gentleman totally satisfied that such recommendations are right in respect of all of India? Will he give the House a guarantee that if the situation continues to improve, he will keep his decision under constant review?

These decisions have been very difficult. We are caught between trying not to raise the anxiety of people in the region unnecessarily or "devalue"—to use the right hon. Gentleman's description—the currency of advice, and recognising our clear duty of care to British citizens and to our staff. Today's news could have been very different, as could tomorrow's. My judgment was that the changes to travel advice were appropriate and calibrated, and in a sense I am comforted by the fact that similar judgments were made by the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, by the United Nations Secretary-General in respect of his staff, and by many other Governments around the world. Of course, the last thing that we wish to see is any restriction on travel to Pakistan or India, or—following on from that—any restriction on trade. Trade with India has taken off, and with our active support trade with Pakistan has expanded, following a change in the EU-Pakistan textile agreement that was reached at the beginning of this year.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we would keep the matter under review and change the travel advice when we think it safe to do so, and the answer to that question is yes.

I share my right hon. Friend's pleasure at the optimistic signs that are emerging, not least because my daughter is currently in Madras and is seeking to fly home. Needless to say, I make no special plea for my daughter, concerned about her though I am; I know that she will work to find a solution to her own problem. However, her experience of going to the airline with which she is travelling was to find, at the end of last week, that all flights this week were full and waiting lists were closed. If Governments are to issue advice that their citizens should leave a particular country, it follows that matching provision should be made for airline capacity to carry those individual citizens out of that country. What steps are being taken to ensure that seats will be available to those who seek to travel?

I know that my hon. Friend is not seeking to make a special plea for his daughter, but such an example is a useful way of illuminating what may be a problem. Our general information is that although there are heavy bookings for flights out of the main airports in India and Pakistan, flights are not fully booked. I hope to follow up the matter that my hon. Friend has raised, and I will let him and the House know the result.

On the wider issue, we have made contingency arrangements to charter a number of flights if we judge that the news is going the wrong way, and we ourselves have to organise an evacuation of British citizens from the sub-continent—but I hope that that does not happen.

Is there any evidence to support the Indian Government's claims that the terrorists have direct links to al-Qaeda? If so, what are the implications of that for our relations with the Pakistani Government, given our position in the war against terrorism?

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go into detail—but I have seen the speculation as well.

Will my right hon. Friend return to the points raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) about the sale of arms to both India and Pakistan? They are both countries with enormous structural problems and tremendous poverty—huge problems that could be resolved with better attention, shall we say, to internal issues. However, the west, and Britain in particular, has been very happy to do enormous arms deals with both countries. There must be an increased danger of war between them the longer these arms sales go on. Will my right hon. Friend impose an arms embargo on both sides and encourage the rest of Europe and the western world to do exactly the same?

My hon. Friend is right to say that those countries have devoted to military expenditure considerable resources that otherwise could have gone to civilian expenditure. That is why we in the international community—including the UK Government, myself not least—have been working so hard to encourage the parties to the dispute to reach their own solution to the dispute. As I said at the end of my statement, the problems between India and Pakistan cannot satisfactorily be resolved by military means. However, I have seen no evidence that a unilateral arms embargo by the UK, or even by the EU, would help to resolve this issue or lead to less defence expenditure by these countries. I simply do not believe that that would happen.

I compliment the Foreign Secretary on his diplomatic efforts, but will he tell us what applications for arms sales in the last two months, if any, have been blocked by the Government? Could he give guidance to UK companies that are perhaps thinking of trying to sell arms to India or Pakistan as to which licence applications would be blocked in future? We need more information about what the Government will and will not allow.

So far as I am aware, no applications have been blocked; they have been subject to processing in the normal way. However, I shall be happy to set the record straight for the right hon. Gentleman and for the House if my recollection is inaccurate.

The criteria were clearly laid out in the consolidated criteria that were put before the House on 26 October 2000 by my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister for Europe. The criteria on which we make decisions, which are the consolidation of national criteria and mainly EU criteria, are clearly set out. They are criteria that the defence industries themselves properly understand. I have had no request from the defence industries for us to provide a gloss on the criteria, as it were. The best way that we can provide certainty is by saying to the defence industries that we will apply these criteria, which are sufficiently flexible to take account, for example, of changes in the level of conflicts and potential conflicts between different parties.

I am slightly disconcerted by the Foreign Secretary's approach in his statement, which seemed to view the Kashmir problem only in the context of the US war against terrorism. I am also slightly disconcerted by his apparent dismissal of past UN resolutions as historic and not worth arguing about. However, I am totally disconcerted by his view that this 50-year-old dispute can be settled only by the two parties concerned. It is 50 years of such advice from the Foreign Office that has led to the present situation. Is there not a case for the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the Government, to approach the US Government and the other two regional powers involved to see whether the two parties to the dispute can be brought to the table, so that the issue of Kashmir can be settled? Clearly, after 50 years, it cannot be left to the two parties alone.

It is simply not the case that I have approached the issue solely in terms of the fight against terrorism. I have a fair knowledge of the dispute, not least after 25 years of representing people from both India and Pakistan who live in my constituency. I could turn my hon. Friend's argument back on him and suggest that if United Nations resolutions could have solved the matter, it would have been solved more than 50 years ago. I am happy to talk about the UN resolutions, but while Pakistan adopts them. India claims that they were superseded by the Simla agreement between the two countries in 1972. I shall put the terms of that agreement on the table for hon. Members to discuss.

I accept that the dispute is a bilateral one, but—as I said in my statement and have said on many previous occasions—it has serious international implications, both because of the potential consequences if war breaks out and because of wider humanitarian concerns for the benighted people of Kashmir on both sides of the line of control. That is why the Government have been so heavily engaged in seeking to encourage the parties to resolve the dispute by peaceful means. So too, have the US, Russia and China, to which my hon. Friend referred. However, external parties can do all that they can, with the best will in the world—President Putin and President Jiang Zemin both held meetings separately with President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee in Almaty some 10 days ago—but in the end the matter can be resolved only by the two key parties who are arguing about territory. We do not have the international law behind us, or the military might—even with the US, Russia, China and the UK combined—to police an agreement that has not been made by the two parties.

The Foreign Secretary has already confirmed that there are contingency plans for British military advisers to be sent to help to seal the line of control if asked to do so. Are there contingency plans, or any extended contingency planning, to provide a helicopter fleet to assist with sealing the line of control? Will we send any other assets to assist, either on our own or with the help of the US?

No, although I cannot rule out what might happen in the future. The hon. Gentleman may be referring to reports suggesting that some 300 helicopters might be provided, but the point that I was making to my Pakistani interlocutor was that to do as we have been requested and insert monitors along the line of control would require 300 helicopters and a large contingent of external forces. Such forces are not available, and the British Army does not have 300 spare helicopters—nor has even the US. That was my point.

The Foreign Secretary has already alluded to the number of people in this country who have direct and personal involvement with affairs in India and Pakistan. What interdepartmental talks have there been about deterring and containing any outbreak of violence that might spill over from the sub-continent on to the streets of this country?

I understand the burden of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I do not believe that anyone has that idea in mind. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I, along with other colleagues, are well aware of the anxieties and strong passions, some of which have been expressed this afternoon, that are felt on the issue. As I said in my statement, my right hon. Friend deemed it appropriate to hold a meeting with representatives of south Asian groups, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, on 29 May. I met a similar group the next day to talk about community relations in this country, along with colleagues from both sides of the House and Lord Filkin, the new Home Office Minister with responsibility for race and community relations. We intend to stay very closely in touch with the communities in this country.

I welcome the relaxation of tension to which my right hon. Friend referred in his statement. However, given the apocalyptic nature of the weapons available to India and Pakistan, despite the answers that he has given this afternoon and that his Department has given in the past, many of my constituents were, and remain, deeply concerned that the Government will not impose an absolute ban on arms sales from this country to that region at a time of such tension. Will my right hon. Friend look at the issue again, as the Government's approach seems to do little or nothing to contribute to what everyone in this country, regardless of nationality or creed, wishes for—that is, that there should be no war in that part of the world?

I understand the deep concerns of my hon. Friend's constituents, and I do not dismiss them for a second. However, some of the supplies that I have approved in the past, such as de-mining equipment, have been extremely benign, albeit that they are classified as arms sales. A blanket ban would involve a complete ban on any kind of material at all. I have already said that to the best of my recollection—I will correct this if I am wrong—I have neither seen nor approved any arms control licence in respect of India or Pakistan in the past two months.

The criteria that I mentioned earlier are applied very carefully. Moreover, the decisions that Ministers make are the subject of retrospective scrutiny by the so-called Quadripartite Committee. Although I know that there has been a separate discussion, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), about strengthening that machinery, ours is among the most thorough parliamentary scrutiny of arms control licences anywhere in the world. When I gave evidence on behalf of the Government before the Quadripartite Committee about five weeks ago I was, quite properly, given a very thorough cross-examination by the right hon. and hon. Members present.

I thank my right hon. Friend not only for the consistent attention that he has given this issue but for meeting many community leaders on his return from the sub-continent, including many of my constituents and those of colleagues throughout the House. We appreciated that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Abdul Ghani Lone's fatal error was to commit himself exclusively to following the democratic process in the state legislative elections coming up later this year, for which reason he was then, as a leader of the Hurriyat conference—and no friend of the Indian Government—targeted by the ISI and assassinated? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that when Donald Rumsfeld is in both capitals this week, he could do a lot worse than come away with a commitment from the leadership of Pakistan matching that already given by India that there will be no nuclear first use by that country? Such a level of equality in the nuclear relationship would greatly defuse the situation.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. He is right to draw attention to the great bravery of Mr. Lone and the fact that he—as no friend whatever of the Indian Government—paid for his moderation with his life. There are some extremely unpleasant people operating in Jammu and Kashmir in the name of freedom. This country, too, has had experience of people operating in the name of freedom committing the most outrageous terrorist acts, and we should bear that experience in mind. I should say for the record, however, that I have no evidence about the provenance of the murderers.

On my hon. Friend's last point, we want both sides to say that they simply will not use nuclear weapons to resolve the conflict, and that they will resolve it by other means.

I declare an interest as chairman of the parliamentary friends of India. The Foreign Secretary will understand the importance that I attach to strengthening and deepening the historic trade and economic ties between our two nations. I want to reinforce the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) about the impact that unnecessarily severe travel advice could have on economic and trade relations. Does the Foreign Secretary understand that there is concern in India that travel advice may have been issued in order to be even-handed between India and Pakistan rather than on the merits of the case, and will he ensure that the advice is kept under constant review and can be relaxed at the earliest possible moment?

It is worth repeating that I have every interest in and commitment to encouraging trade and commercial, business and tourist intercourse between the United Kingdom and Pakistan, India and all the other countries of that region. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I can say that the advice issued in respect of India was not issued in order to appear even-handed. I took quite separate decisions, which I spelled out in a letter to all colleagues—as the House was not sitting—giving reasons for the travel advice and the drawing down of our staff in Pakistan, which was to do with extant terrorist threats there. I held off from issuing travel advice in respect of India until I had been to the region and discussed my experiences, in particular with United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and European Union colleagues. I judged it appropriate, and it was required by my duty of care towards United Kingdom citizens, to issue the advice that I did on 31 May, and then to strengthen it on 5 June.

I promise the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will change the travel advice as soon as it is prudent to do so—back to normality, we hope, but that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, our albeit limited staffs in both India and Pakistan are making every effort to run as near normal a visa service as possible.

I, too, commend my right hon. Friend for his worthy efforts on the matter. He is walking a tightrope in respect not only of what is happening on the sub-continent but of the communities here. He has been assiduous in trying to secure a peaceful settlement. However, let me take him back to his statement about the entry clearance operation. I know that it is to be increased in New Delhi, but I have had complaints over the past few days from constituents who simply cannot make applications. That involves not only visitor visa cases but compassionate cases. I know that my right hon. Friend has an interest, because of the number of his constituents in Blackburn who will be affected. Unless we consider how to tackle the problem now, there will be a backlog of cases. Perhaps we can consider an alternative method by which people can make applications.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I understand what he says about the entry clearance operation. I was reluctant to make any changes in the visa processes or to draw down staff until I thought that it was absolutely necessary—but it had to be done. We have arranged a drop-box system in Delhi. As of this morning, I understand that our processing of applications across India as a whole is running at 65 per cent. of the level at June 2001, and 80 per cent. in Delhi. We will do everything that we can to get back to as near normal a level as possible. If my hon. Friend has specific constituency complaints or concerns, I hope that he will draw them to my attention or to that of the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that part of the continuing tragedy is that millions of the poorest of the world's poor live in India and Pakistan, as is evidenced by the fact that India is the largest recipient of bilateral aid from the UK? Does he also agree that every penny spent on armaments and nuclear devices by India and Pakistan could better be spent on primary education and health care in those two countries? What realistic prospect is there that India and Pakistan would actually be willing to try to resolve the difficulties between them bilaterally?

India is a huge country and contains about one third of the world's poor, according to figures from the Department for International Development. Per head of population, India and Pakistan are significant recipients of aid from this country and from around the world.

As for the hon. Gentleman's question about realistic prospects, I have given an explanation why the matter has to be resolved by the parties, albeit with encouragement from others—[Interruption.] I am neither an optimist or a pessimist in such situations. We have to work hard for a peaceful solution to be agreed between the parties, and we shall continue to do that. However, it is also crucial that although the issue may fall away from the front pages, it should not fall away from the concerns of the House; it is not least a consequence of the international community's having moved on to something else that the issue blew up into a crisis and then festered without being resolved.

I support everything that my right hon. Friend has done to achieve an easing back from the crisis that we face. He will know that I went right up to the line of control just before Easter. May I urge him to ensure, in the short term, that the United Nations has equal access to both sides of the line of control and that its reports on incursions and shelling across the line are made public, so that we have a neutral view of the position? In the long term, although I realise that the issue can be resolved only when Pakistan and India are willing to resolve it, we must take account of what people on both sides in Kashmir want. We must ensure that the problem is kept on the agenda; 54 years is far too long, and the problem must be solved.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to say that 54 years is far too long. As regards the specific issue of the UN monitors, I shall take up the points that he raised and will write to him.

In the Foreign Secretary's remarks this afternoon, he appeared to rule out the formal deployment of British military units to Kashmir, but he has posited a scenario in which individual military advisers could be sent. Will he tell the House whether any British military personnel have been given warning orders or otherwise put on notice of possible service in Kashmir?

Although, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, I am not directly responsible for military forces—that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence—I am tolerably certain that no warning notices have been given.

Earlier today I had a meeting with the leadership of the Ilford mosque that my right hon. Friend visited a few years ago. Concern was expressed to me that nothing that happens in the conflict should be used in any way by extremists of any kind to damage community relations in this country. Given that the period from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs to the Cuban missile crisis was 16 years, how confident can we be that it will not be 16 years from the inception of Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons before those countries realise the need for a hotline and a proper relationship to control and manage the fact that there are two nuclear states in that region?

First, I commend the very responsible approach taken by my hon. Friend's constituents as represented by the mosque in Ilford, which I well remember visiting.

Secondly, I cannot give a time line, but with good fortune, one better consequence of the current crisis and the international attention being paid to it may be that both sides understand the need better to develop a sophisticated nuclear doctrine, and above all, the need to improve their back-channel methods of communication so as to avoid a nuclear war starting by accident or misunderstanding.