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Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Our argument is that it was not a democracy. It was a kleptocracy which was ripping millions of rupees away from the public exchequer.
One of the primary reasons for the international esteem in which Britain is held is our commitment to the rule of law, human rights and representative government. This is something about which every British citizen should feel proud. Your Lordships will forgive a personal, and perhaps emotional, note when I say that this is why I became a citizen of this country nearly 25 years ago and why I am happy that I did.
Millions of people everywhere look to Britain as a source of inspiration as they struggle to fulfil their democratic aspirations. We should never sacrifice this perception. The fact that we in this House accept the primacy of another place because it is an elected body testifies to our own endorsement of democratic principles.
On 20th April last year, in a debate on India and Pakistan, your Lordships may recall that I said that both these societies are capable of sustaining democratic systems of government. I also said that the most welcome contribution Britain can make in that region is to support and encourage democracy. Since then, developments in the political environment of the sub-continent make me even more convinced of this.
There is another practical consideration that I would like to share with your Lordships. Pakistan's most urgent need today is for greater investment in its infrastructure. Given the abysmal rate of adult literacy--somewhere below 40 per cent--the expansion of education is a vital need. The country has one of the highest population growth rates in the region; about 2.7 per cent per year over the past decade. About 40 per cent of its population is currently below 15 years of age. Surely, all that suggests that social and economic development is a critical issue.
As we look across the experience of nations, there is little to give us confidence that military governments will address these priorities; they are usually preoccupied with increasing the size and firepower of the armed forces; and that, of course, creates another unhappy spill-over impact on regional development. Last month, I was in India and fortunate to meet the Prime Minister Vajpayee and his senior Cabinet colleagues. Their concern is that events across the border will compel India to increase its own defence expenditures at some cost to the national development process.
We now have, in Pakistan, the first known instance of nuclear weapons under direct control of the military. All other nuclear states have had the insulation of civilian control over the final decisions about their weapons. It is good that our foreign policy keeps these broader considerations in mind as it addresses that situation.
Let me say a word about corruption. The present regime in Pakistan, and even some people here, suggest that corruption was the downfall of previous Pakistan governments. Perhaps that is so. But there are two observations that I think are relevant. First, where is the evidence that dictatorships are less corrupt than democracies? Dictatorships may, in that infamous phrase,
My other observation is this: we must of course strongly condemn corruption wherever it exists, in Pakistan or elsewhere. It eats at the heart of any society, particularly a society that has few resources and great developmental demands. But as we do so, let us make sure that economically developed countries do not, inadvertently or otherwise, facilitate corruption in other regions.
I have avoided Kashmir and the Indo/Pakistan conflict because, as has been said, perhaps it is for another day. In conclusion, the decline of democracy does not contribute to the decline of tensions anywhere. I strongly endorse government policy in that it stands for encouraging the people of Pakistan to make their own choices through the democratic process.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, from debates in your Lordships' House and in another place, it is strikingly obvious just how many friends Pakistan has right across the political spectrum. For many years, one of the most consistent and reliable of those friends has been my noble friend Lord Weatherill. Anyone who has an interest in the affairs of Pakistan would do well to read his speech and attach proper weight to his remarks. The whole House is indebted to him for initiating today's debate.
I want to comment on two things: first, the military coup; and, secondly, the importance of creating a more tolerant, plural and socially just society in Pakistan which is better able to accommodate its minorities.
Just before Christmas, I had the opportunity to visit the small West African country of Benin. In 1990 its military dictator, Mathieu Kerekou, whom I met during my visit, became the first African military leader voluntarily to surrender power. He felt sufficiently confident about the stability of the country to call elections in which he was a presidential candidate. He lost those elections, but a peaceful transition to democratic government nevertheless took place. It is perhaps worth commenting that five years later he stood as an independent candidate and was elected by the people in open and free elections. There is a lesson there for General Musharraf.
Notwithstanding the deeply unsatisfactory nature of the government of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's friends would surely wish to see, as the noble Lord, Lord Paul, said, the creation of democratic government in Pakistan at the earliest opportunity. I hope that when the Minister replies she will be able to tell us what progress General Sir Charles Guthrie was able to make last week during discussions with General Musharraf. I should be interested to know in particular whether in those discussions there was any debate about outstanding military sales.
Echoing remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Paul, and others, we are aware of the military instability of the region and the problems of nuclear weapons. But some 80 outstanding licences are pending. I should be interested to know what the Government's policy is towards implementing the sales that will go with the granting of those licences. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was right last week to say that we should suspend judgment. So perhaps it is also wise for us to suspend sales, at least for the time being.
I am not nai ve about the previous government. I support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. When the Government were elected in 1997, the turn-out was about 32 per cent. There were many allegations of vote rigging. Holding an election does not necessarily make a country truly democratic, especially when the party of government then seeks to subvert any legitimate opposition, interfere with the judicial process and stifle hostile comment in the media. Nawaz Sharif undoubtedly did all those things. He may also have been the principal author of the events which led to his undoing. If the allegations are proven that he gave orders refusing permission for an aircraft carrying General Musharraf to land in south Karachi, that is not the action of a true democrat. No democratically elected leader would seek to kill the head of the armed forces.
A good test of an administration's credentials is its human rights record. Sharif's flirting with Taliban-inspired Sharia law did not bode well. Paradoxically, as we have heard during the debate, it is General Musharraf who has invited the world to judge him by his treatment of minorities and by the yardstick of tolerance.
In that respect, many of us hope that the new government will repeal the blasphemy laws. I associate myself wholeheartedly with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said. Since their introduction in 1986 as section 295C of the Pakistan penal code, the blasphemy laws have been used as a weapon against both the Ahmadi and the Christian minorities there. I have corresponded with the government of Pakistan about this matter. On two occasions I have led delegations to see ambassadors and ministers to press for reform of the laws. Last year, I heard first-hand here, at a meeting outside your Lordships' House, from a group of Christians in Pakistan who came to give evidence of their systematic persecution.
In 1990 the federal court determined that the death penalty should be imposed on those said to be in breach of the blasphemy laws. That is an open invitation to any fanatical group to bear false witness. As we know, the consequences can be fatal. At least two Christians--Naimat Ahmer and Manzoor Masih--have been killed by fanatics because of false blasphemy accusations. Even those Christians who have eventually been acquitted have had to flee the country because of the threat to their lives.
False accusations have, on occasion, sparked anti-Christian riots. On 6th February 1997, a mob of 30,000 rioters went on the rampage in the Punjab province, burning down homes, churches and shops belonging to Christians. The perpetrators of those events have never been brought to justice.
Blasphemy accusations are commonly used as a means of carrying out vendettas. In one case, Nelson Rahl, a stenographer at Rawalpindi general hospital, was arrested on 4th January 1997 and detained for allegedly burning some pages of the Holy Koran. He had been framed because of his refusal to participate in an embezzling scheme. Currently on bail, he and his family are in hiding because of threats to their lives.
Trials have frequently generated communal strife. On one famous occasion a mob erected a gallows outside a court where a blasphemy trial was taking place in an effort to intimidate the judicial authorities. Clearly, such actions and the existence of such laws impede the development of a more plural and tolerant society. Many of us hope for the early reform of those laws.
Later today, my noble friend Lord Sandwich will initiate a debate on contemporary slavery. Bonded labour continues to affect millions of people in Pakistan, India and Nepal. One submission to the United Nations estimates that some 20 million bonded labourers exist in Pakistan, of whom 8 million are children. In January 1999, Asma Jehangir, the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, estimated that there were 50,000 bonded labourers in southern Shindh alone. In a separate study, Human Rights Watch estimated that 1.2 million children were involved in carpet weaving in Pakistan and that many of them were bonded. In 1993 the ILO World Labour Report described the problem of debt bondage as being among the worst in the world.
Although legislation prohibiting bonded labour has been enacted in Pakistan, too little has been done to identify, release and rehabilitate labourers and prosecute those responsible for using bonded labourers. When the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, replies, I hope that she will tell us what progress is being made with the programme initiated by the European Commission in 1996 which pledged one million dollars towards the release of bonded labourers. By last year there had been no releases. I wonder how political developments in Pakistan have affected the programme, whether it will continue, and what progress the Minister expects in seeing the buying out of bonded labourers.
On those issues of human rights and social justice, General Musharraf has the opportunity to make useful progress. Many of us echo the remarks made during the debate about the links we all have with members of the Pakistan community in Britain. While I was in another place, my constituency chairman supported me loyally over many years. He had come from Pakistan, and he is one of the holiest, most resolute, devout and tolerant men I have ever met. He is the trustee of the local mosque, fully part of our society, and continues to have a great love of the
My perspective is not, however, to enter the debate that other noble Lords have raised of how Pakistan might best be returned to democratic rule, nor on the justifiability of the coup. My perspective is how to reinforce and strengthen the institutions which are necessary now and which will enable the country, when it returns to democracy, to be, in the words of the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Mr Peter Hain, writing in an article in the Guardian,
My concern in particular is how to strengthen and reinforce the institutions of the legal system in support of the rule of law, both now, during the present regime, and when democracy is restored. My interest--and one which I should explain, if not declare--is that I am co-chairman of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. That association is the largest organisation of lawyers in the world. Through collective and individual membership, we can count 2½ million lawyers in 183 countries.
The Human Rights Institute is a separate arm, with its own membership drawn from all over the world. Our objectives are to promote and protect the rule of law and human rights. We believe those are essential to stability, to a just and peaceful society, and indeed to prosperity because they provide the framework for orderly economic growth.
We pursue this aim partly through the traditional methods of trial observations, interventions and investigation of legal systems by international experts. We also believe that we have a special role to play through the richness of our resources of experienced lawyers in every part of the world, to help educate, to offer practical assistance, or procure practical assistance, to help build or reinforce structures which will support the rule of law.
It is in that connection that we have been working in Pakistan since 1997. In October of that year, a multi-national mission went to study the workings of the legal system and to report on the rule of law and human rights. It held discussions in four main centres with Bar leaders, individual lawyers, representatives of government, human rights activists, judges, non-governmental organisations and the military.
These were serious criticisms of the justice system showing an urgent need for reform; exclusion of millions of Pakistanis from effective access to advice and representation; an over-politicised legal profession; deep concerns about the approach of the executive to the independence of the judiciary and, indeed, to some extent of the judges themselves to their relations with the executive. The latter led to the extraordinary events of late 1997, when different divisions of the Supreme Court successively suspended and placed under restraint the Chief Justice and suspended and restored part of the constitution.
We have pursued some of the recommendations since and carried out follow-up visits. I visited Islamabad and Lahore last year to discuss the report with government, Bar leaders and the judiciary. In Lahore we held the first human rights conference ever, which attracted a great number of lawyers and others.
We have offered technical assistance. Next week there is to be a mission concerned with legal education and judicial activism. We have been engaged in a programme that is designed to reinforce the structures necessary for a stable legal system based firmly on the rule of law. I say "reinforce" because the basic structures are there. There is an able and strong-minded judiciary and a large legal profession which includes many highly competent advocates and lawyers. The basic structure is based on the English legal system. When I visit the courts they are reminiscent of English legal procedures and proceedings.
It is not surprising that the basic legal structures are there. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said, the founder of Pakistan, Mr Jinnah, was a firm believer in justice and the rule of law. He qualified as a barrister at Lincoln's Inn in 1895 and practised as an advocate and magistrate in his early years. But he would have been appalled to see some of the subsequent developments in the relationship between the executive and judiciary, such as the incident shown on television (reliably reported to me) when a Cabinet Minister, supported by his colleagues, physically set out to attack the Chief Justice. There is much to do in terms of the legal system and the laws. We in the Human Rights Institute shall continue our work and offer any help that we can. We are encouraged by some of the developments in the field of human rights which the present regime appears to be pursuing.
But there are two other areas in which we have been involved where we suggest that Her Majesty's Government may have a further role to play. The first is the encouragement and support of exchanges between the Pakistani and British judiciaries. As noble Lords may be aware, there are a number of countries with which such exchanges take place. Those
It was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, who first explored the possibility of such exchanges with the then Chief Justice of Pakistan in 1993. The first such exchange occurred in 1995 when senior Pakistani judges visited this country. The second has not taken place, in part as a result of the constitutional crisis and in part because of financial constraint. I have been able to speak to both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, and Lord Justice Potter of the Court of Appeal, who is now responsible for those exchanges. Both have authorised me to say to your Lordships that they remain committed to the idea of a judicial exchange.
Another programme in which we have been involved is designed to gain support and help from the English legal profession. We have procured an agreement between the English Bar and the Pakistani legal profession which is intended to provide technical help and assistance in training, building legal aid programmes, pro bono schemes and other such matters. In both cases, however, while the Government have been morally supportive of what is being done a little more is needed in the form of material assistance. Not much is required, because the greatest resource is the experience and time of lawyers and judges, which is freely given. We shall continue to give any assistance that is requested in those areas, but I ask the Government to consider doing more.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I follow other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Weatherill for introducing a debate which has already proved to be remarkably thoughtful and, certainly as far as I am concerned, informative about the situation in Pakistan. There has been, perhaps less predictably, a high degree of unanimity about the attitude that Her Majesty's Government should take, with one notable exception.
I intervene briefly in the debate to express the hope, which was also expressed by my noble friend Lord Weatherill and other noble Lords, that we shall not exacerbate the situation in Pakistan by taking diplomatic, economic or any other measures against that country without considering fully what the consequences may be.
I should like to take a slightly different line from that which has been taken hitherto by concentrating on the dangers of getting it wrong. In a brief exchange in the other place on 2nd November, the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary remonstrated with the Opposition spokesman and said that it would be wrong to give a signal that military coups are acceptable in certain circumstances. Whether, as the Foreign Secretary implies, all military coups are always unacceptable and there is no such thing as a good military coup is a matter of opinion. I hold a very different opinion from that held by the right honourable gentleman.
What is true is that military coups are sometimes understandable. If the elected government of a country prove to be corrupt, undemocratic and incompetent, as my noble friend Lord Weatherill said the sooner they are removed, the better. It would be best if that could be done by the normal democratic process. If that is not possible, as it certainly was not in Pakistan, surely it is better that there should be a temporary period of military government than the continuation of a situation in which the elected government produce nothing but misery and hardship, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, demonstrated in her admirable speech.
It is desirable that the democratic process should be restored as soon as possible. I shall be grateful if the Minister can provide any information about the validity of the Chief Executive's promise that democratic government will be restored as soon as possible. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and other noble Lords have suggested, we should at least give the military rulers a chance to put their country in order before contemplating draconian economic sanctions and bringing about Pakistan's diplomatic isolation.
There is also a practical matter to be considered. I refer to the possibility of increased regional instability. That is a matter which the Government to their credit now appear to have at the heart of their foreign policy. Pakistan is predominantly a Muslim country (97 per cent), as the design of its national flag symbolises. Pakistan has a high proportion of Islamic militants. It is a country with over half a million men under arms and the capacity to construct and deliver nuclear weapons. On its border is India with a reverse population: over 80 per cent Hindu and only 10 or 11 per cent Muslim. It has over a million men under arms. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said, it has a long-running territorial dispute with Pakistan. These are key players in the stability of this region of central and southern Asia. We should do nothing that might damage the stability of that region which is already depressingly fragile.
In that context, let me presume to utter a word of caution about the growing tendency of what is called the international community to interfere in the affairs of sovereign states. Mr Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, seems nowadays to be advocating the abandonment of the traditional United Nations doctrine of non-interference, enshrined in Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, and replacing it with something that I can only call "the right to interfere". This new doctrine has already been seen in action in the Balkans and in south-east Asia and, from what one can see and hear, Her Majesty's Government seem to be strongly supportive of that new doctrine. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, articulated it recently as follows:
As we contemplate the chronic instability in central and southern Asia, I conclude with another dangerous factor that we should bear in mind. It has not been mentioned. Pakistan does not belong to--it is not a member of--the International Missile Technology Control Regime. Pakistan, like India, has an active missile programme. It has recently flight-tested its GHAURI missile, an intermediate-range missile with a range of 1,500 kilometres. It has also tested a nuclear weapon and would be capable of producing one and firing it at short notice. Western intelligence reports suggest that in this programme Pakistan has had the strong support and assistance of the People's Republic of China. Those are important factors to bear in mind in conducting and formulating a foreign policy in this region.
Instability in the area is not like Kosovo or East Timor. We are dealing with countries which are, in military terms, almost regional superpowers. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Paul, said, generals are as a rule less likely to go to war than politicians. However, despite that, the sooner that nuclear weapons in Pakistan return to political control with the return of democratic government, the better. I do not ask the Government to say that military regimes are acceptable as a long-term form of government. I do, however, ask them not to be swayed by the demands of political correctness in their immediate reaction to the military coup so that they make the situation in that region worse rather than better.
Lord Sandberg: My Lords, we all welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in introducing the debate. Like the noble Lord, I had the good fortune to hold a commission in the cavalry regiment in the old Indian Army. That regiment, the 6th Lancers, became part of the Pakistan army after Partition. I have the honour of being that regiment's representative in Britain.
At that election, Pakistan was striving to find a government to undo the political corruption of the past years. The low turnout was influenced by the fear that both parties were almost equally corrupt. That fear turned out to be only too true. Almost immediately, Mr Sharif and his colleagues started to feed at the same trough as their predecessors. The reaction in the streets in Pakistan to the army's action told its own story. There was almost universal relief and rejoicing, and the grassroots support has continued. Since then the stock exchange index in Karachi has risen from about 1,130 to 1,700 points, an indication of the greater confidence investors have in the new administration.
I make these points because those with perhaps little understanding of Pakistan were quick to criticise the move by General Musharraf. Perhaps with more thought it might have been seen as an almost inevitable event when one takes into account the fact that the political and economic situations were at such a low ebb.
As we have heard, the aeroplane in which General Musharraf was travelling back from Sri Lanka was deliberately barred from several airports and was nearly out of fuel when it was enabled eventually to land only because of action taken by the army. I imagine that being so near a crash must concentrate the mind more than somewhat. Nevertheless, apart from the arrest of Mr Sharif and some of his close colleagues who will later go on trial, General Musharraf has refrained from martial law or any of the other extremes that we have come to fear after a military coup. Indeed, we understand that the courts and judiciary are functioning normally. There appears to be a free press. I have seen articles written in the newspapers which confirm that.
It is all too easy to condemn a military coup. The last thing we want to do is to isolate Pakistan while it is trying to formulate its future. We must wonder with some doubt--some noble Lords will have different thoughts here--whether the suspension from the Commonwealth was somewhat premature and a little hasty. One result is that in a country in dire economic circumstances, General Musharraf's first visit abroad has been not to London--it would have been a natural reaction for a member of the Commonwealth--but to China to which he will look for help. Would the Foreign Office consider--it might be difficult politically--inviting General Musharraf to this country? At that time it could ask him more about his intentions for the future. Meanwhile, General Musharraf has sought to de-escalate the military confrontation with India, as we have heard, and, it is
General Musharraf has stated clearly that he wants to return to democracy. He has said that the armed forces have no intention of staying in power any longer than is necessary to find the path to true democracy in Pakistan. He has thus started off well. But it would be foolish to expect that there can be an instant return to democracy in Islamabad. Equally, I believe that a precise timetable for such a return is premature. Indeed, I think that the only result would be a return to corruption. We must remember that the two opposition parties--we know that they have been less than pure--have yet to cleanse themselves.
We must be patient and allow the process to devolve. Among other factors, it is important to allow the new administration to distance itself from fundamentalism. There is a tendency among people to identify all Islamic states as being both militant and terrorist. Certainly, under Sharif there was a disturbing closeness with the Taliban. On the other hand, General Musharraf has made it clear that he wishes to return to the tenets laid down by Dr Jinnah, who was a firm and open supporter of freedom of religion and of the role of women in Pakistan.
Britain's relationship with Pakistan goes back over very many years, both as an independent country and, formerly, as part of the British Empire. Thus we must surely help Pakistan in its hour of need with sympathy and understanding. We must offer Pakistan continuing friendship. We must not act hastily just because democracy is close to our heart and there is not yet a programme in Islamabad for a return to the ballot box; rather we should be thankful that there was no bloodshed or violence.
I end by saying that those of us who have had the privilege of travelling and living in Pakistan have the fondest memories of friendship and tolerance. So I ask that we show Pakistan's citizens the same friendship and tolerance at this crucial time in its history.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I regret that Britain originally appeared to be out on a limb in her policy towards Pakistan, an aberration likely to be long remembered. The military did not act irresponsibly or against the interests of the people of Pakistan, who responded with widespread relief and celebration, or those of her allies. The Commonwealth, at Durban's CHOGM, was also right not to take punitive action beyond temporary suspension.
The internal affairs of Pakistan and the related complexities of Afghanistan and Kashmir require a more resolute appreciation and calculated approach by external decision-makers. The systematic dismantling of democratic institutions, the engineering of absolute powers over legislators, the removal of constitutional presidential mechanisms to dismiss a government, the subversion of the judicial process, the attempted manipulation of the military,
General Musharraf should be offered a conditional tenure of no more than two years to accomplish the following far-ranging agenda before a general election commitment: the election of an independent electoral commission; fresh demarcation of constituencies, including the equal participation of minorities; mechanisms to ensure an independent judiciary; freedom of press guarantees; the safeguarding of minority human rights; a reassessment of intelligence agencies' charters of duties; revamping of the tax regime; and, finally, the protection of international investment commitments. All this must be accomplished within a programme of poverty alleviation through increased expenditure in social and education sectors and with transparency and strict accountability.
In addition, Pakistan is embroiled in two unsettling external situations, which must also be addressed--that of Afghanistan and Kashmir. Afghanistan's civil war has destabilised the region, for which Pakistan must accept a considerable degree of responsibility. It can and must now provide solutions in its own national interest. Failure to do so could see Pakistan's original involvement seriously backfire.
Afghanistan offers sanctuary, training and financial support through smuggling for militants from Pakistan, Iran, central Asian republics and the Xinjiang province of China. Afghanistan now produces three times more opium than the rest of the world put together. The Taliban have an agenda to overthrow neighbouring regimes, including that of Pakistan. I do not need to remind the House that the recent Dagastan debacle is but one example of the devastating effects of Taliban insurgency. Worryingly, already neo-Taliban elements have become a major influence in Baluchistan and North West frontier provinces, together with increasing influence outside the Pushtun belt to Punjab and Sind.
What has been Pakistan's role in all this?--the preaching and training of the Taliban's extreme interpretation of Islam by Pakistani mullahs in Afghan refugee camps, the setting up of a strongly anti-American political party in Pakistan, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam--the JUI--which gained leverage under Benazir Bhutto, and the undeniable support by the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency--the ISI. The solution is for Britain and the United States to put pressure on Pakistan, together with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Uzbekistan to halt the supply of arms into Afghanistan and to curb drug exports. The Taliban would then negotiate an end to the war and deliver an immediate benefit by allowing Western interests, for example, to export central Asian oil and gas via Afghanistan and Pakistan, all of which is unrealistic without peace.
It is worth noting that the large majority of Pakistanis living in Britain are in fact of Kashmiri origin. This has enormous significance and, not surprisingly, even certain Ministers in the United Kingdom are deemed to have a jaundiced view of Islamabad as many of their constituents come from what is known as Azad or free Kashmir. Indeed, 31 new Labour constituencies are influenced by Kasmiri Pakistanis.
I have just one question for the Minister. Given the recent Lahore Declaration, affirmed by the June G8 communique of which the UK played a part and is a signatory, both accords acknowledging through the Simla Agreement that the Kashmir issue is to be resolved bilaterally between Pakistan and India, and given that the UN resolution, of which the UK was also a signatory, gave the Kashmiris the right to self-determination, will the Minister say today whether the Government support the successive accords or the UN resolution? The two are contradictory and therefore misleading and complicate a resolution.
In conclusion, the Chief of the Defence Staff has just returned from bilateral meetings, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. What is the assessment, and will this lead to the necessary pragmatic assistance programme, with sufficient time and resources to right the many underlying ill-judged policies on a strict timetable? What is all too often forgotten, and what must not be lost sight of at this critical juncture, is that democracy is a process--evolving and enduring--not just an election.
Lord Brett: My Lords, I doubt whether many noble Lords would disagree with the description given by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, a week ago of the political parties in Pakistan. Of all the constructions made of the situation in Pakistan, I favour the one given by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It is feudalism masquerading as democracy.
I have listened to the debate with a sense of unease, and it was only following the intervention of my noble friend Lord Paul that my unease lessened slightly. It seemed that while we were not approving of the coup, we were pretty close to understanding it and accepting it. I share the view that there is no such thing as a good coup, but, whether we like it or not, the Pakistani
I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for introducing the debate. He mentioned the tests that the new regime has to pass to restore democracy. They include demonstrating respect for the law and human rights.
I should like to introduce what some noble Lords may feel is a narrow point, but which I believe is fundamental to democracy. I refer to the issue of trade union rights in Pakistan. Trade union rights involve human rights and the law. The government of Pakistan have ratified Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organisation. I have the privilege of being the vice-chairman of the governing body of that organisation. The Sharif administration attacked trade union rights in at least two ways: by passing anti-trade union legislation and by attacking the trade movement. He interfered with the banking union by denying membership to certain categories of staff. He completely suspended WAPDA, the power and water trade union, for two years. He not only suspended the organisation and its right to represent all its members, but he took away the ability of its members to contribute to it. He thereby, at a stroke, crippled the finances of the All Pakistan Federation of Trade Unions, the democratic trade union centre.
When the coup occurred, one might have thought from the statements made by General Musharraf that action would urgently be taken to bring about normality and democracy and the legal process that had been violated by the Sharif government. I quote from a letter written by my good friend Kurshid Ahmed, the general secretary of the All Pakistan Federation of Trade Unions, stating:
This kind of signal runs counter to the appreciation that there may be swift moves towards democracy. Our Government were right to condemn the coup, and it is important that they put pressure from all directions on the government of Pakistan. It may take time to introduce local election democracy and to build up a true democracy, but it would take no time at all for the government of Pakistan to remove the restrictions that have been placed on the trade unions and to conform to their binding obligations to the International Labour Organisation.
Independent trade union freedoms are fundamental to a true, free democracy. I go further and state that trade unions have a great part to play. They have a distinguished record and in the past decade have been a major player in bringing about democracy in Poland and South Africa. I ask, therefore, that the trade unionists of Pakistan receive no less support from the Government in all respects than the trade unionists in Poland and South Africa received from all sides of the House.
The test set out by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, could begin to be passed if the measures applied to the trade unions of Pakistan by the previous regime, but extended by General Musharraf, are removed at the earliest possible opportunity.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Weatherill for initiating this important debate on Pakistan, just as we are grateful to him for giving us such a lovely excuse to have a really jolly party last night in honour of his loving convenorship of the Cross-Benchers.
Noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I am not going to speak for anything like nine minutes. I have an interest to declare in that two of my sons are currently setting up an Internet start-up company, Ascot-Drummond, based in London and Pakistan. We therefore already have many friends in Pakistan and much goodwill towards her people.
We have heard so many good and meaty speeches today covering the situation in Pakistan from so many angles that there is very little for me to add. Although the new President of Pakistan, General Musharraf, has arrived there in rather an undemocratic way, the regime that he replaced, although democratically elected in the first place, had turned out to be not very democratic in practice, difficult to dislodge and gradually becoming more and more corrupt. General Musharraf has said that as soon as the country re- settles itself he will re-initiate democracy. Naturally, we are very anxious to see this happen. We are also anxious to see the lessening of tension towards Kashmir and other neighbours and a cessation of nuclear testing.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I also should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for introducing the debate. I pay tribute to him and his unique and special ability to address matters in an impartial and neutral way. He is very well respected in both Houses of Parliament. I always say that the noble Lord is living history. He has had enormous influence and impact on my political experiences in this House and is without doubt one of my greatest mentors.
I have listened with great interest to the speeches and should like to discuss a few of the concerns that have been addressed. The first issue is the imminent visit to the Indian sub-continent by the Foreign Minister, Keith Vaz, who is responsible for visa sections abroad. I understand that he will be visiting India and Bangladesh. However, unfortunately, he will not be visiting Pakistan. I express my concern about this matter, on behalf of over half a million British Pakistani Kashmiris and British businesses. The biggest problem in the world relating to entry clearance visas is in Islamabad. To alleviate these problems it is imperative that Mr Vaz visits Islamabad; otherwise, individuals and businesses from the British Pakistani Kashmiri community will be at a loss.
I am aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has seconded extra staff to cope with the long delays. My noble friend Baroness Symons has approved provision of extra entry clearance officers, who have achieved some progress. However, I understand that people are still queuing at midnight to apply for settlement visas; and they often have to wait for eight months before an interview is granted.
Britain and Pakistan have had a shared history of strong political and economic ties. I am most encouraged by the comments made by Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff. Following his recent visit to Pakistan, he was reported in the press as saying:
I welcome those statements and should like to ask the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government would extend help to fund and organise courses here in the UK for potential parliamentarians in Pakistan, because the real problem, as has been demonstrated in today's debate, has been with Pakistan's politicians as well as its institutions.
The foreign affairs debate has again been referred to. I concur with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in that debate, that in recent years Pakistan had become a dysfunctional and sham democracy--had in fact become a kleptocracy, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, earlier. Therefore, General Musharraf's action was clearly in Pakistan's national interest. The people of Pakistan have accepted and welcomed the removal of the previous government, and that is perhaps why there was no violence or bloodshed and why 80 per cent of the public supported the change. Not only should we suspend our judgment, as my noble friend Lord Desai suggested earlier, but right now we should be supporting Pakistan through this difficult time.
It must be appreciated that Pakistan is a difficult country to govern. There are real problems; for example, the continuous existence of the oppressive feudal landlord system; the culture of tax evasion--which has been mentioned earlier--corruption; favouritism; nepotism; and political and economic mismanagement. There are clear signs that General Musharraf is committed to addressing some of those issues. However, I hope that the administration will either bring charges against Mr Sharif, Senator Asif Zardari and others or release them as soon as possible.
I agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, regarding the rights of women and their quality of life. However, I am aware also that minorities have representation at local, provincial and national level, including a cabinet minister from a religious minority. I remind the House that, before Labour came to power, there were no Muslims in either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. I remind your Lordships that in France and Germany there are millions of Muslims but they still have no representation. That does not stack up the argument for Pakistan, but all I am saying is that it is a sad fact of life that the poor and the weak--Muslims or Christians--always suffer at the hands of the majority and the strong.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester that Pakistan should have laws preventing incitement to religious hatred. I believe that we should have similar laws in Great Britain too. As your Lordships are aware, this country does not have religious discrimination laws. I hope that those noble Lords who have spoken in support of changes in Pakistan will support me when I introduce a Private Member's Bill on religious discrimination.
Pakistan has a real chance of becoming a genuine democracy. I have spoken with General Pervaiz Musharraf and he has assured me that the armed forces have no intention of staying in charge any longer than absolutely necessary to pave the way for true democracy to flourish in Pakistan.
General Musharraf's Government have so far taken some positive steps: they have reduced Pakistan's military budget by 5 per cent and initiated appropriate steps towards achieving economic revival. That is reflected in the confidence which the investment community has shown in Pakistan's economy, resulting in a 20 per cent increase in the stock market since 1st January 2000.
The Government are also moving towards transparent accountability, depoliticised state institutions, an improvement in the law and order situation and devolution of power to grass roots level. General Musharraf has announced that there will be local and district elections this year. That will pave the way for true, genuine and lasting democracy in Pakistan. General Musharraf's appointment of Dr Akbar Ahmed in London and Dr Maleeha Lodi in Washington has been welcomed by the masses. They are both highly respected in the Pakistani community and in the western world.
On the issue of relations with India, General Musharraf has made positive moves; for example, he unilaterally implemented a military de-escalation on Pakistan's international borders with India. Pakistan would welcome unconditional, equitable and result-oriented dialogue with India to resolve all issues; especially the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. It is imperative that we put pressure on India. The United Nations resolutions on Kashmir are valid. No bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan can supersede the United Nations resolutions, because the United Nations is the supreme legal body.
I accept that Pakistan is currently not a democracy. However, that should not prevent the implementation of the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir. Furthermore, India is not the great democracy it pretends to be. It has 700,000 soldiers committing gross human rights violations in Kashmir. India's Interior Minister, L. K. Advani, pursues fascist policies: he was responsible for the destruction and demolition of the Babri mosque and the slaughter of 2,000 innocent civilians. He continuously threatens to take Azad Kashmir, a beautiful heaven on earth where I was born.
Recently, when General Musharraf's envoy went across the globe to explain the situation in Pakistan, he was met by top politicians in Japan and America; in Washington, by the Assistant Secretary of State. However, we failed to produce a single politician to meet him. That policy of non-engagement at ministerial level has to change. I want to see more help and co-operation with Pakistan at the highest level. I understand and support Her Majesty's Government's foreign policy. However, I ask the Minister to understand the British Pakistani community and its expectations.
Finally, our foreign policy should be an ethical foreign policy based on moral values; that is, to help others who need our help rather than persecuting them. Pakistan is a poor country. It needs help and support, not isolation from the international community. That is why I am privileged to support the proposal moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. He matches his wisdom with his integrity, which is why so many of us take him so seriously. Pakistan is fortunate in having Peers of the calibre of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and my noble friend Lord Sandberg so closely associated with it and so anxious to champion it in its time of need. It is perhaps one of the greatest pieces of fortune that a country may enjoy to have voices, such as those we have heard, in another country's Parliament, so determined to try to assist in every way that they can.
We have already heard a great deal in the debate--and there is no point in my adding to it--about the record of the government of Mr Sharif. One has to add to that the record of his predecessor, Benazir Bhutto. Both Governments did a great deal to erode
Even worse, or perhaps at least as bad, we now know that both Governments' elite ruling groups simply ripped off one of the poorest countries in the world. Its loyal and courageous people, to whom both the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Sandberg, have paid tribute, have been the victims of their own government. That is a terrible epitaph to any government of a so-called democracy. I agree with all of that. I believe that that has been in every sense a tragedy for a fine people.
However, I do not agree with those who said that it was wrong of the Foreign Secretary to make it clear at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference that he believed that a coup to overthrow an elected government should not be accepted by us without protest. I remind noble Lords that the Commonwealth is based increasingly on the concept of a mutual recognition of human rights and of democratic institutions. I believe that it would be an extremely serious step if the Foreign Secretary had simply disregarded that basic foundation and had done so in the face of the attitudes of those, for example, such as the Foreign Secretary of Canada, Mr Roy Axworthy, who, on behalf of the Commonwealth Secretariat, led the mission that went to Pakistan to meet General Musharraf to discover what were his commitments for a return to democracy. If one flew in the face of the committee, chaired by a Minister from Zimbabwe, which was set up to look into the matter, and if one behaved simply as though exceptions could be made because one had every sympathy with the reasons for that, I believe that, again, one would be taking an extremely serious step.
I believe that it is very reasonable to say that we must take a position with regard to the overthrow of democratically-elected governments, even though the democracy itself may be flimsy and shaky. Then we should explain why in that particular case we believe that there may be reasons why we should nevertheless resume aid to that country and resume support of the kind outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith. I say that for one other reason which I believe to be important; that is, that we should not go back on those commitments but, rather, strengthen them.
That brings me to my first question to the Minister. Would it not be better if the Foreign Office, perhaps together with the Commonwealth Secretariat, began to develop a somewhat richer definition of democracy: one that embodies, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, the rule of law; one that embodies, as a number of other noble Lords said, the independence of the judiciary; and one that embodies the concept of accountability and transparency in government? I am
I turn to two questions which I want to put to the Government. First, why did we suspend aid? The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked that question because, like me, he is troubled by the fact that we have suspended aid but have continued exports of arms. Suspending aid, at least for more than a few token days, seems to me exactly the wrong thing to do. Pakistan is a flimsy democracy, partly because she is a desperately poor country and most of her people are becoming not richer but poorer. She will never establish a proper democracy unless her people have something to look forward to other than hunger. The right reverend Prelate made that point very strongly and very impressively. If in a country taxes are not paid by the wealthy, that country cannot provide education to the poor. Therefore, that is a very strong reason why I believe our economic aid should continue.
Incidentally, I should like to see that economic aid, as soon as possible, linked to co-operative endeavours with India. Last year I visited the north-west desert which lies between Rajasthan and Pakistan--a desert which on the Indian side is beginning to bloom and where I believe there is scope for major economic development along the lines of the Negev Desert in Israel, if only there could be co-operation between the two governments and support from the international community.
On arms exports, again, I have a question for the Government. Is it the case that we still rest entirely upon the old wartime emergency legislation with regard to the decision on arms exports? As Sir Richard Scott pointed out the other day, we still have made no changes, despite the strong recommendations of his report. Four years on, that appears to me to be a little casual, to say the least. Therefore, I should like to ask, first, whether any proposals are being made more rigorously to control arms exports to Pakistan, among others, and, secondly, to ask the Government whether, in the escalating current situation, it might not be wise to suspend arms exports for the time being while resuming economic aid.
My final point relates to an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and a number of other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Paul. That is how we deal with a crucially insecure region of the world which is becoming rapidly more tense. Last year, following his election in India, Mr Vajpayee extended his hand considerably towards Pakistan with a view to de-escalating relations over Kashmir. Noble Lords will remember, for example, the establishment of a bus link between Pakistan and India, the decision by India to accept and agree to a natural gas contract, and various other extensions of friendship on, it must be said, the Indian side on this occasion. That was when Mr Sharif was the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I
I conclude by asking the Government whether there is any truth in today's report in the Pakistan newspaper, Jang, that China has said that she will not allow any harm to come to Pakistan's security and national integrity, that she will not remain silent if Pakistan is made the target of aggression, but, perhaps more important, that she is willing to meet whatever defence needs Pakistan might have and, furthermore, that she reiterates Pakistan's position on Kashmir. I make no judgment about what China is alleged to have said. I state only that if that is true, as the Pakistani newspaper suggests, then we are into a much more dangerous period in the world's history than most of us would have believed even a week ago. Perhaps the Government can throw some light on that. Perhaps they can tell us what urgent steps they are taking to try to obtain the international community's support for a new attempt to resolve some of the terrible, long-lasting and increasingly dangerous problems of Kashmir.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for securing this debate at such a critical time in Pakistan's turbulent history. As a number of noble Lords have said, south-east Asia and Pakistan in particular have continued to feature prominently in the world's consciousness over the past months. Pakistan is a pivotal country in the stability of south-east and central Asia and that stability is currently hanging in the balance.
From these Benches, we join with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, in calling upon the military to respect the safety and legal rights of those who were elected by the people of Pakistan. In particular, Pakistan must respect the rights of the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and pursue any genuine legal case through due process with a fair and open trial.
Likewise, we share the Government's desire to work closely with our colleagues in the Commonwealth to press for an early and credible timetable for the restoration of democracy to the people of Pakistan. We agree that the international community should not accord any legitimacy to the military regime or provide any signal that it is willing to condone the overthrow of a constitutional government.
Chechnya is a case in point. Although it is under consideration, after more than four months of war on its own citizens, Russia has not even been suspended from the Council of Europe, the very body which promotes the values of democracy and human rights in Europe. Of course, as this House well knows, not all elected leaders are democrats and not all generals are villains.
I make it absolutely clear that from these Benches, we do not condone or approve of the way in which the government of Pakistan was changed but there are certain matters of which we believe it is important that the Government take account and factor into their assistance to the people of Pakistan so that a truly democratic government, free from intolerance and corruption, can be elected.
The fact that the coup was bloodless and did not inspire widespread protest within Pakistan tells us what we already knew; that, in a worsening economic climate, Pakistan's previous elected government failed to provide transparent and good governance and thus lost the support and trust of those whom it represented.
Indeed, in its response to Pakistan's military coup, it is essential that the international community recognises what lies at the heart of Pakistan's political problems and does not compound them through its actions. Pakistan is a country that was created in the chaos of partition; nurtured in a cold climate of poverty and corruption; and torn, since birth, between conflicting cultures. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that Pakistan has been badly let down by successive governments, both civilian and military. Tragically for Pakistan, failures by both the Sharif and Bhutto governments have coloured perceptions of what democracy can accomplish in Pakistan. Two long periods of martial law in Pakistan have embedded the concept of military participation in politics and have inhibited the development of a stable, democratic, constitutional system.
So the challenge for the international community now lies in matching our goals for Pakistan's future with the tools that we have available. Those tools of persuasion are limited and we lack the calibrations of subtlety and balance for which the situation today in Pakistan calls. The tools of condemnation and isolation are too blunt and heavy for that country. They must be tempered by the tools of engagement and forbearance. To engage is not to condone. But to isolate may result in Pakistan's descent into further political and economic chaos which would cause ordinary Pakistanis, whose interests we purport to champion, to suffer the most.
Likewise, regional stability is at risk if we do not continue to engage with Pakistan on core issues of international concern, be they counter-narcotics, non-proliferation, law enforcement, regional peace and security and counter-terrorism. Our own actions towards Pakistan in the days ahead should be guided by the steps taken by the new authorities. In that context, General Musharraf's commitments to a democratic future, to resolution of the dispute over Kashmir and to restraint in nuclear proliferation are most welcome.
Of course we wish to see General Musharraf take practical steps to acknowledge that democratic governance is not an experiment; it is a right accorded to all people under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The sooner civilian, democratic rule is restored, the better. It is better for the ordinary people of Pakistan; better for Pakistan as a nation; and better for Pakistan's relations with her neighbours and the international community.
In that context, I wish to add to the questions put to the Minister by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the precise purpose of those discussions between Sir Charles Guthrie and General Musharraf, given the recent speculation over arms sales to Pakistan. The Minister will be aware that the Foreign Office Minister of State said that,
Will the Minister confirm that there are at least 80 applications for export licences pending and will she clarify the Government's policy on applications for arms sales to Pakistan? In the light of the Government's strong condemnation of the coup in October and November and their ethical dimension to foreign policy, will she confirm that it is government policy that arms sales will not be reviewed until democratic guarantees are in place? If not, will she explain how the Government intend to demonstrate to the military government of Pakistan that there cannot be business as usual between them and the rest of the world, as the Foreign Secretary demanded in October?
I must say that it is difficult to see how the ethical dimensions of foreign policy have been served, when the Government are quick to suspend all bilateral aid to the government of Pakistan and when the Secretary of State for International Development says that,
The Minister will be aware that in July, President Clinton, on the subject of Kashmir, said that he would take a personal interest in encouraging an expeditious resumption and intensification of those bilateral efforts to resolve all issues dividing India and Pakistan, including Kashmir, once the sanctity of the line of control has been fully restored.
Pakistan has interpreted that as an indication that America may be willing to play a mediation role in Kashmir, something which, as we have heard during this debate, India vehemently opposes. Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that Kashmir is also our problem. Britain's position has always been that we are willing to act as a broker for peace if both sides request it, but that the impetus for a just and lasting solution to the conflict and the final settlement which involves and reflects the views of the people of Kashmir remains firmly a matter for India and Pakistan. In view of that, will the Minister say whether the Government have sought clarification of President Clinton's statement?
The state of development in the country of Pakistan has been made extremely clear by noble Lords during this debate, not least by the right reverend Prelate who referred to the importance of a grace period.
General Musharraf has pledged to revive the economy and indeed we should assist. We should assist because 36 million people in Pakistan live in absolute poverty; over two-thirds of the Pakistan adult population is illiterate; 60 million people do not have access to health facilities; 67 million people are without safe drinking water, and 89 million people are deprived of basic sanitation facilities. That is why it is incumbent on this House, indeed this Government, to respond positively to programmes of assistance for the development of Pakistan.
In conclusion, democracy will not take root if it is grafted on to corrupt and bankrupt institutions. Economic growth in Pakistan cannot be sustained without substantial investment in human development. It is from that development that in due course we will get the sort of democratic security for the people of Pakistan that is so essential. A simple adherence to the concept of democracy without recognising the fundamental importance of building the institutions of good governance and effective development programmes will simply not work. That is why we need to be sensitive to these issues when considering this question today; we need to be firm yet persuasive; robust yet sensitive to the new government of Pakistan; and resolute yet encouraging as we pursue our goal of the restoration of democracy.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, this has been an interesting and high quality debate. I welcome the level of unanimity and understanding of some of the difficulties that in general has been expressed by so many noble Lords.
I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for drawing our attention to the crucial issue of the future of Pakistan--crucial because Pakistan is undoubtedly at a crossroads. He and other noble Lords spoke of the military coup, economic and developmental challenges, tensions with India, and nuclear issues. At this early stage, I particularly want to thank my noble friend Lord Paul for his kind words of thanks to our staff in Islamabad who at present are facing such difficult times.
The British Government are watching developments with concern, but we are not yet ready to subscribe to the gospel of despair, as perhaps some believe we are. I can reassure my noble friend Lord Ahmed that we agree that Britain cannot and should not turn its back on Pakistan and its people. Pakistan is too important to isolate. That is why, despite our deep concern over the coup, the British Government will stay engaged. We have too much shared history and too many shared interests to do otherwise, as a number of noble Lords mentioned. In that context, as far as I am aware Ministers have never refused to meet any envoy sent by General Musharraf. I was surprised to hear mention of that.
The policy of staying engaged is why the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence agreed to the visit of Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff, to Pakistan on 13th January. He underlined to General Musharraf our concern at recent events in Pakistan and the necessity for him urgently to reassure the international community of his commitment to an early transition to democratic rule and to tackling tensions in the region, particularly with India.
To answer the questions of my noble friend Lord Alton and respond to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, I say straightaway that the issue of arms sales was not on the agenda. Our policy on arms export licensing, as clearly set out in response to a Question in another place, is that we consider export licence applications for Pakistan on a case-by-case basis against our national criteria and those in the EU Code of Conduct for Arms Exports. Applications for export licences can take some time to process, especially if the situation in the country concerned is fluid. The coup in Pakistan created many uncertainties and, in the circumstances, it is right for the Government to take the time necessary to assess the new regime's behaviour and intentions before deciding on outstanding export licence applications.
I shall try to respond to the questions in relation to bonded labour in my response to the debate of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I shall write to noble Lords in the event that time defeats me.
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