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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I said, we will look at each application on its merits on a case-by-case basis. Obviously some considerations will apply more acutely to some than others. That is the fullest answer I am in a position to give.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that I cannot but agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Paul in his fine speech, my noble friend Lord Brett and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that there can be no such thing as a "good coup". We have made that clear from the outset. We are aware of the shortcomings of the previous government in Pakistan. We made no secret of concerns about their record on many issues: relations with India, economic reform and human rights. But they were elected and the Pakistani people had the right to challenge them through the ballot box.
Military intervention is an unacceptable response to dissatisfaction with an elected government. Coups can only hinder the evolution of the democratic process. An apathetic response to a coup in a country of Pakistan's size and importance--it is the sixth largest democracy in the world--would have sent a destabilising signal to other fragile democracies throughout the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. I compliment the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on an excellent speech. She raised an interesting point on the definition of "democracy" which merits proper and further consideration.
Pakistan is a proud country with a proud people. My noble friend Lord Desai rightly made reference to the bad luck to which it has been subject. But the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was right when he said that it has been badly let down too by successive leaders, both civilian and military. As a result, Pakistan continues to struggle with deep-seated political and economic problems, including widespread poverty, as many noble Lords mentioned. Those trying circumstances help to explain the popular acceptance within the country of the coup to which the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Sandberg, and my noble friend Lord Ahmed referred.
We welcome General Musharraf's pledges to address those problems. But I beg to challenge the conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that the military should work to rebuild and restore democracy only after it has solved them. It is clear from previous experience in Pakistan and elsewhere that the military cannot be expected to see this process through on its own. In the long term, it is only through public consent, rooted in a strong responsive democratic process, that those issues can be addressed. We urge the present regime to begin work on the transition to democracy immediately, in parallel with the wider agenda. It cannot expect us to give it a blank cheque.
Since the end of the Cold War, the trend is undeniable. The world is moving in the direction of elected democratic government, and of professional armies under civilian control. We want to help to ensure that Pakistan is not left behind.
Democracy in Pakistan has suffered a setback. But we should not give up on the principle; nor should we lose hope that democracy in Pakistan can and will be rebuilt and restored, perhaps in an even healthier state than before. The Pakistani people deserve a new and better democracy--a democracy which is fair, responsive and transparent; a democracy which can deliver stability and national unity; a democracy which can bring security and prosperity to all Pakistanis, rather than a privileged few; a democracy strong enough to ensure that this military intervention is the last.
I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that General Musharraf has promised an early transition to a stronger democracy, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and other speakers. The British Government welcome this. We want to see him succeed. It is now up to him to convince us that he is taking steps in pursuit of this end. I should say to all noble Lords that we are ready to listen, engage and provide practical help as long as we see real and sustained progress. This approach applies equally to our policy on government-to-government developmental aid.
The Commonwealth is also committed to the same approach through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group mechanism. We have no illusions about the size of the challenge facing General Musharraf. But that does not mean that benchmarks for progress cannot be set. If a realistic and publicly-announced timetable is drawn up, and this is demonstrated to be working, the British Government will respond constructively.
However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, rebuilding democracy is not only about what happens on election day. It also means restoring public trust in the organs of the state and the system of checks and balances on which all democracies, including our own, depend. In this context we cannot ignore the accumulated problems posed by poor economic management, corruption, weak rule of law, a "winner takes all" political culture and a poor human rights environment. We hope and expect that General Musharraf will be looking at these issues in parallel.
My noble friends Lord Desai and Lord Paul, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, all placed proper emphasis on the economic issues with which Pakistan is challenged. Without public trust in the management of the economy, any rebuilt political and institutional structure will have an uphill struggle for credibility. Economic reform is necessary to bring prosperity and to benefit the poor, but it can also encourage fairer and more transparent administration. Economic reforms are not just about the right to do business; they are also about the way in which business is done. It is in the
Corruption has extended its powerful tentacles into all areas of national life in Pakistan. My noble friend Lord Desai gave us some graphic examples of this in his powerful speech. Other speakers also commented on it. This hurts the weak, curtails efficiency, checks economic development and sharpens the public's sense of alienation from the government.
Acting to stamp out corruption and encourage disinterested and transparent administration would benefit all Pakistanis. This process should apply equally to all sectors of society. Once those in authority are seen to respect the rule of law, it should become easier to demand that the public also do so. The law should uphold the rights of the weak against the strong. But, in parallel, there is a need for justice to be faster, firmer and fairer. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Goldsmith for his helpful account of the work of the International Bar Association in this field. We wish to look very carefully at his suggestions in relation to taking these issues further.
We also welcome the emphasis placed by my noble friend Lord Paul and other noble Lords on the importance of the rule of law generally, and the judicial process. That applies most particularly to the excellent speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. The tradition of "winner takes all" should and can be broken. For democracy to work better, a government should be able to take and respond to criticism and deal with their opponents in a balanced way. Political intimidation has no place.
In the immediate future, any trial of the deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must be fair and open. I cannot but agree with the comments made in this regard by my noble friend Lord Desai, and the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Moynihan. A show trial to settle old scores would strike a sour note. In answer to the specific question of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I can tell him that we have a hope and an aspiration that there will be no improper interference with the courts or with Mr Sharif's trial. We are watching closely the process of the trial, but our jury is still out.
Our dialogue on human rights with the previous government was wide ranging. We raised frankly our concerns over the position of women (Hudood Ordinances--honour killings), the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities (Christians, Ahmadis and Shias) and trade unions, as well as press freedom. Indeed, specific mention was made of the issue regarding the editor of the Friday Times. We welcome the commitments made by General Musharraf which were rightly highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in her sensitive speech. We also agree with the sentiments made in this regard by many other noble Lords.
However, General Musharraf has to respect fully the guarantees set out in the Pakistani constitution. We look to him to ensure that they are implemented. But with that constitution formally suspended, the
As I said earlier, Pakistan does not exist in a vacuum. I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in particular for his pungent and well-informed analysis of the challenges facing the region. Britain is committed to working for peace, stability and prosperity throughout south Asia. A Pakistan which is at peace with itself and its neighbours is a crucial element in this equation. We should be under no illusion: the situation in south Asia is worrying. A number of my noble friends were right to express disquiet about the summer's conflict in the Kargil sector of the Line of Control, especially as it came so soon after nuclear testing by both Pakistan and India. The recent hi-jacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft has further increased tensions.
We have urged General Musharraf to renounce the option of military aggression over Kashmir and to make early moves towards reducing tensions with India. We have also asked that Pakistan co-operate fully with international efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism. We remain deeply concerned about Kashmir, both as a potential flashpoint and for the sake of the Kashmiri people. Our position is well known: we call for India and Pakistan to reach a just and lasting settlement that reflects the views of the Kashmiri people and offers them the best hope of peace and security. We have reiterated our calls for Pakistan and India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and address the root causes of the differences between them.
On the issue of Kashmir, as I have already said, the British Government's position is very well known. We condemn terrorist attacks and human rights abuses alike. We stand ready to offer our good offices in any negotiation, but only if this is requested by all parties.
To sum up, we want the best for Pakistan and its people. We firmly believe that that means democracy--a strong and resilient democracy that can guarantee political and economic security for its citizens, and work for peace in the region. We welcome the commitments that General Musharraf has given to work to that end, but urge him to reassure us with a time frame. If we see progress, we are ready to help. Pakistan is too important to give up on.
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, this has been a very useful debate. In the last Session it was suggested that we might do away with Wednesday's debates in order to devote our time more frequently to looking at the Bills that come before us. I hope that today's debate and the debate last Wednesday demonstrate how very important these general debates are.
I should like to take the opportunity to thank all noble Lords who have participated. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Ahmed for his over-generous comments; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester--my personal bishop, as I am in his diocese--for his contribution; and the Minister for her comments.
I take issue with the noble Baroness on only one matter. If General Musharraf's were a purely military regime, I would not support it. But, as I sought to point out, it is not a military regime. It is seeking a government of all the talents. As I understand it, there is only one military cabinet minister, apart from General Musharraf himself. So it is not a purely military regime.
I thank the noble Baroness very much for her comments and for the helpful way in which she dealt with the subject. I pay tribute also to the noble Baroness for speaking in the next debate. As one who, in a past incarnation, had to sit on the Front Bench throughout the day, I know how tempting it is to put one's feet up on the table. But that is not a tradition we have in your Lordships' House.
In concluding what has been a valuable debate, I would not wish it to be thought that in being pro-Pakistani, I am anti-Indian. I am certainly not. I served in the Arakan campaigns with the Jat (Hindu) squadron of my regiment. I have an equally high regard, respect and great affection for India and its people. I have only one remaining ambition, and I hope it may be vouchsafed: to see reconciliation between India and Pakistan.