Statement: Kashmir

Today Mark updated the House on the current situation between India and Pakistan in Kashmir following the Urgent Question he responded to last week. You can find Mark's statement below and the entirety of the following debate on Hansard by clicking here. You can also watch the statement on by clicking here.

The Minister for Asia and the Pacific (Mark Field)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to update the House on the current situation between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, as promised after the urgent question was tabled last Wednesday. On 14 February, a terrorist attack against a convoy near Pulwama in India-administered Kashmir killed more than 40 members of the Indian central reserve police force and injured many others. The individual who claimed responsibility for the attack associated himself with the group Jaish-e-Mohammed. This suicide attack drew international condemnation, including from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and increased tensions between India and Pakistan.

Exactly what happened after the attack remains contested, but it is our understanding that on 26 February Indian aircraft crossed the line of control between India-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir and carried out airstrikes into Pakistani territory. The following day, Pakistan launched missile strikes into India-administered Kashmir and there was an aerial exchange between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets. An Indian air force plane was shot down by Pakistan and its pilot was captured. At this point there was a serious risk that a mishap could lead to a fully-fledged war between the two nations, with both regional and international implications.

On 28 February, the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, announced that he would hand over the captured Indian pilot. The next day, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned to India. This, together with public and private indications that Pakistan was prepared to tackle the terrorist groups that threaten India, has seen a welcome pause in the escalating tensions between the two countries. Nevertheless, the UK Government remain deeply concerned by the raised tensions between the two countries and the underlying issues that have led to this situation.

We welcome the fact that India and Pakistan have both stated publicly that they do not want to escalate tensions further. The situation remains fragile, however, and both militaries remain on heightened alert. There accordingly remains a high risk of some further incident, and the situation could move quickly back into crisis. Just this morning, media reports have come in of a deadly grenade attack in Jammu.

India and Pakistan are close and long-standing friends of the United Kingdom. Our bilateral ties with both countries are long and deep, and they are bolstered by the UK’s large Indian and Pakistani diaspora communities, which are also deeply concerned by the situation. We encourage both countries, and our friends on these shores, to find diplomatic solutions to the underlying causes of conflict.

Members should be assured that the UK has worked and continues to work tirelessly through all diplomatic channels to encourage further de-escalation and to ensure long-term regional stability. We do this alongside our international partners and with a wide range of counterparts in India and Pakistan. I visited India last weekend, between 1 and 3 March, and I was able to reiterate to those whom I met that the UK unequivocally condemns all forms of terrorism, including the appalling terrorist attack in Pulwama that sparked the current crisis. In New Delhi, I discussed with Foreign Secretary Gokhale steps to decrease tension and improve regional stability, including vital efforts to tackle terrorism.

Since I last updated the House, the Indian wing commander has been reunited with his family. We saw that as an important and welcome step by Pakistan to reduce tensions. Our Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan on 3 March, and they discussed the need to address the causes of this conflict. Our Prime Minister emphasised the importance of Pakistan’s taking action against all terrorist groups, in support of global efforts to counter terrorism.

We remain firmly committed to working closely with Pakistan to combat the terrorist threat and the extremism that sustains it. We recognise the steps that Pakistan has already taken against groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, but we continue to highlight the importance of effective and demonstrable action against all terrorist groups in Pakistan. That is something that Pakistan has committed to undertaking. We have been clear that that action needs to be urgent, sustained, credible and transparent. Alongside others in the international community, we encourage Pakistan to meet the requirements of its Financial Action Task Force action plan, which includes taking specific action to address terrorist financing.

For our part, we ensure that UK aid to Pakistan continues to address the conditions that could allow radicalisation and violent extremism to grow. A more prosperous and stable Pakistan is vital for regional and global security, and it is very much in the UK’s national interest. Our programmes on the ground aim to reduce overall poverty, promote inclusion, increase economic opportunities and meet basic needs, including girls’ education.

The UK and India also have a close working relationship on counter-terrorism, which includes regular dialogue. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the United Kingdom last April, the two Prime Ministers agreed to strengthen co-operation to take decisive and concerted action against globally proscribed terrorists and terror entities to protect our citizens. They agreed that terrorist and extremist organisations must be denied space to radicalise, recruit and conduct attacks on innocent people. We will continue to work closely with and support India, but the matter goes well beyond the bilateral India-UK relationship.

We believe that all countries need to work closely together to disrupt global terrorist networks, their financing and the movement of terrorists, including foreign terrorist fighters. As part of international efforts to tackle terrorism, the UK continues actively to support the listing of JEM leader Masood Azhar at the UN. The JEM is already listed by the UN and has been proscribed in the UK since 2001, and in Pakistan since 2002.

In parallel to the important fight against terrorism, we expect India and Pakistan to focus on securing longer-term regional stability and security. Dialogue is an important confidence-building mechanism, even though we recognise the complexities. We strongly encourage both countries to engage in that way. The UK will follow developments closely, and we stand ready to support should India and Pakistan both deem that to be constructive.

As hon. Members will be aware from our conversations both at the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group and in this House only eight days ago, our long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or act as a mediator. In the meantime, I confirm to the House that we continue to monitor the situation closely. Naturally, we keep our travel advice under constant review.

I close by reiterating the Government’s wholehearted support for those who fight terrorism, and restating our sustained commitment to working with India and Pakistan to further de-escalate the current situation. Many Members of the House—a lot of them are here today—agree that a calming of these tensions is in our collective interests. I think we have an important part to play. When I went to New Delhi and Mumbai last weekend, I was struck by how many of my counterparts had watched last week’s urgent question. The message goes out loud and clear from this House that here there are many friends of India and Pakistan who wish to see a better future for all who live in Kashmir. I commend this statement to the House.