Article India Jammu Kashmir LoC Mediation Muslim Pakistan Peace Rule Srinagar Struggle UK Muslims

British Parliamentarians on Kashmir; Glimpses from the past

On 2nd February 2005

Baroness Knight of Collingtree asked Her Majesty’s Government: What steps they are currently taking to help end the Kashmir dispute. Here are a few responses from the parliamentarians.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, we fully support India and Pakistan in their discussions on Kashmir, as part of the composite dialogue process. As a friend of both countries, the United Kingdom Government and, in particular, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have stressed our support for the confidence-building measures and the constructive nature of the exchanges under the composite dialogue. We note the recent inter alia agreement on prisoner repatriations and welcome the launch on 28 December of the second round of talks.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the most appalling human rights violations continue in Kashmir day after day? Has she been told, for instance, that, on the night of 20/21 December last, Indian troops barged in to the home of a 70 year-old woman and repeatedly raped her through the night? Does the Minister know that an Indian army major raped a mother and her 10 year-old daughter in Handawara nearby? Is not 60 years enough for the Kashmiris to suffer like this? Could not more be done to try to end such suffering?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, indeed, I am aware of the reports of human rights violations. The particular incident of rape to which the noble Baroness drew our attention took place in the Handawara area of Indian-administered Kashmir last November. The Indian army conducted a court martial. An army officer was cleared of rape but found guilty of misconduct and I understand that the court martial recommended his dismissal from the army.

It is important to welcome the strategy published by the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs at the end of last year, which included steps to initiate prompt, expeditious and transparent inquiries into human rights abuses and to give further training for the Indian armed forces in this important area. There has been a little improvement, but considerable concern remains about the abuse of human rights.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we, too, express concerns about ongoing human rights violations—and 60 years is a long time—but we particularly welcome the Government’s approach to facilitating the composite dialogue. Does the Minister agree that the wishes of the Kashmiri people must be paramount as this process moves forward? In recognition of genuine concerns over cross-border terrorism, would it not be a good idea if the UN peacekeeping and monitoring forces, which have been in place for some 55 years, had a more active role in patrolling the line of control, so that confidence-building measures can have real teeth?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, I acknowledge the points made by the noble Baroness regarding human rights. It is important to note that we regularly raise our concerns on those issues—and not only with the Indian Government because there are issues regarding killings on the Pakistani side, about which President Musharraf himself recently made a statement. So I would not wish your Lordships to think that the problem is all on one side.

The last time we discussed this matter in your Lordships’ House on 9 December, the noble Baroness asked me a similar question about the Kashmiri people. Of course their views need to be taken into account, but since that discussion, civil society has come together in Kathmandu, and these issues and what is happening have been discussed among the Kashmiris. Also, the meeting in Islamabad on 28 December between the foreign secretaries took the issue forward to a considerable extent. That process now holds more promise than when we last discussed this issue.

Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, International Affairs, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, we are all shocked by the abuses and atrocities that my noble friend Lady Knight mentioned, but would the Minister agree, which I am sure she does, that on a broader plane, things are moving forward? Local elections took place yesterday in the Indian part of Kashmir, despite calls for a boycott and some riots. Meetings are taking place this weekend in Bangladesh between the heads of state or foreign ministers of India and Pakistan. There is a kind of peace process and that is a considerable advance on the threat to drop nuclear bombs on each other with which we were dealing only a few months ago. Will the Minister undertake to give maximum support, in so far as we can if we are asked, to this gradual confidence-building process? It seems to me that if we work hard at it, it is an area in which we might get some good news instead of bad.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

Yes, my Lords, I thoroughly endorse what the noble Lord said. Exactly the same points were made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when he met the head of the Indian Government in September last year and the head of the Pakistani Government in December last year.

This round of talks, which was launched on 28 December, is very important. It deals with a range of issues, including Kashmir, and builds towards a meeting of foreign secretaries later this year. It involves important confidence-building measures and expert dialogue on the nuclear issue, which the noble Lord raised, on the transport links between the two countries, and on working further on trade issues between the two countries.

I endorse what the noble Lord said. It is important that, while acknowledging the issues raised by the noble Baroness in her initial Question, we look to positive moves forward on the issue of Kashmir.

Lord Kilclooney Crossbench

My Lords, now that a new programme to encourage tourists to return to Kashmir has been announced, what travel advice has been given to UK citizens?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, I do not have travel advice readily to hand. I acknowledge that it is an important question and I shall ensure that a copy of the current advice is placed in the Library of your Lordships’ House. However, I shall do so with the caveat that travel advice changes regularly. Should incidents arise, it is important to ensure that people who are considering travelling to Kashmir do not rely on advice which may be even only a week old. It is very important to keep checking the travel advice.

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