Foreign & Commonwealth Office Questions

18th October 2016

Alok Sharma answers questions on Kashmir and other issues.

Kashmir

1. What recent assessment he has made of the political and security situation in Kashmir. [906637]

 

12. What recent diplomatic steps the Government have taken to support resolution of the conflict in Kashmir. [906649]

 

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) cares deeply about Kashmir and has visited the region. I am concerned by recent events in Kashmir. I have in recent weeks met representatives from the Governments of both India and Pakistan and urged calm and restraint on both sides. I will continue to do so.

 

Has the Minister seen the reports of hundreds of Kashmiri protesters suffering eye injuries because of the indiscriminate use of pellet guns, and will he please speak out against it?

 

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am of course concerned by those reports. He may also know that the use of pellet guns in Kashmir has come under review by the Government of India. The results of that review have not yet been shared publicly, but it has been indicated that alternative methods of crowd control will be introduced.

 

The tragic recent history of Kashmir arose from the partition of India, which was managed by Britain after world war two. Does not Britain therefore have a special responsibility to help to find a solution to Kashmir’s troubles and the suffering of the Kashmiri people?

 

The UK of course has very good relations with both India and Pakistan, but our long-standing position, held by successive Governments of all hues, is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or act as mediator.

 

There are no winners in Kashmir. The recent clashes have impacted on thousands of people and the economy is struggling, with over £1 million or 10,000 crore being lost in 100 days. A military solution is not working. I urge the Minister to encourage a political solution that involves not only India and Pakistan, but the Kashmiris themselves.

 

We should of course do all we can to promote trade and prosperity in the region, and that of course follows stability.

 

As has been stated, in Kashmir we have seen more than 100 civilians killed, hundreds blinded and over 13,000 injured through the indiscriminate use of pellet guns against protesters. Will the Minister today condemn this shocking abuse of human rights? Does he not believe that we, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, have a responsibility to support and uphold UN resolution 47 and allow the sons and daughters of Kashmir their birth right to self-determination?

 

As I have noted, I am of course concerned by reports of the use of pellet guns, and of course any allegations of human rights abuses should be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.

 

Will the Minister speak to officials at No. 10 and urge the Prime Minister to raise this issue during her forthcoming visit to India?

 

The UK of course shares a long-standing and deep friendship with India, and I am delighted that the Prime Minister has announced that she will visit India in November. The visit will be an important opportunity to discuss the full range of bilateral issues with Prime Minister Modi.

 

The previous Foreign Secretary said in March that the question of Kashmir should be a precondition for the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan. Since then, Kashmir has seen more than 100 days of unrest and the exchange of artillery fire between Pakistan and India. What specifically is the Foreign Secretary doing to bring about an end to the violence and to assist in the resumption of talks?

 

As I have said, of course we have very good relations with both India and Pakistan, including strong diaspora links. They are two proud nations. We encourage both countries to maintain good relations but, as I have noted, we recognise that the pace of progress is for both sides to determine.

 

With both India and Pakistan facing immense issues in their own countries to sort out, one would have thought that there would be an appetite to resolve this issue. Why does the Minister think that actually that appetite does not seem to exist in either country?

 

This is of course a very important matter, and we raise these issues with both Governments. Ultimately, however, it is for both sides to progress the issue and determine the outcome.

 

On behalf of the Opposition, I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks. The recent upsurge in violent clashes and terrorist attacks in Kashmir is deeply disturbing. We urge all sides to engage in dialogue, halt the cycle of violence and keep innocent civilians from harm. We have heard today about the use of pellet guns against protesters in Kashmir, which is totally unacceptable. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State urge the Indian authorities to make good on their commitment to stop the use of those weapons?

 

As I have noted on a number of occasions, the use of pellet guns in Kashmir has come under review by the Government of India, and our understanding is that alternative methods of crowd control will be introduced.

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Topical Questions

T4. My constituent Nicholas Simpson and five other ex-servicemen are being held in a jail in Chennai. May I urge my right hon. Friend and the Government to do everything in their power to work with the Indian authorities and resolve this situation for all the families concerned? [906630]

 

My heart goes out to the families. I raised this case with Minister Akbar when I was in India in July, and I raised it again on 5 October with the Indian high commissioner to the UK. I know that my hon. Friend is working incredibly hard to highlight this issue and I look forward to meeting him and hon. Members representing the other families tomorrow.

 

Further to Questions 1 and 12, is not the British Government uniquely placed to bring Pakistan and India together in some form of talks, particularly given the fact that tensions are probably higher than they have ever been and that we are dealing with two nuclear powers?

 

As I noted earlier, we have regular dialogues with the Indian and Pakistani Governments. I reiterate that, at the end of the day, it is up to the two countries to come together and to work on the pace of bilateral relations.

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I thank the Minister for his answer on Kashmir, where I was born. He says that it is up to India and Pakistan to come forward on the matter, but to get a long-term, lasting solution, the people of Kashmir must be given the right to self-determination in accordance with the 1948 UN Security Council resolution. The Prime Minister has said that she supports the rights of the United Nations—[Interruption.]

 

Order. I indulged the hon. Gentleman and the least he could do was to be brief.

 

As I noted earlier, we of course want a lasting peace in Kashmir. As for the resolution, we should be taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.