Speech in Parliament on India

India Must Help On Kashmir to Promote Stablity in Pakistan and Afghanistan
Speech in the House of Commons, 5 February 2009
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), described in Lord Howe’s memoirs as a brilliant speaker without notes. We saw again today just how right that description was. It is also a pleasure to follow my fellow Mertonian, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell). I do not quite know why Merton college produces so many people with an interest in geopolitics, but there it is.
I will start by mentioning a date: on 25 June 2003, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for the first time came to the Dispatch Box to pay tribute to a soldier who had fallen in the campaign in Afghanistan. Now, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have to go through that ritual every Wednesday. We understand that, but I wonder whether our fellow citizens and we as Members of Parliament will at some point say, “That’s enough.” I hope that the good people of Rotherham will continue to send me here to spend more years in Parliament, and I would like many a Wednesday to go by without such condolences having to be paid.
I make that point as a supporter of the decision of the Euro-Atlantic community and NATO to be present in Afghanistan. I do not get any sense that there is a strategy, however. There are tactical interventions and comments here and there. I heard Secretary Gates refer to the impossibility of making Afghanistan a Valhalla. I hope he was accurate in that because, of course, Valhalla is where dead heroes go to their final eternal rest—I am unsure to what extent some senior American politicians are educated in the classics nowadays.
I propose a non-aggression pact to the Front-Bench teams of all three main parties. Is it possible to have a fabulous discussion of “Hamlet” without mentioning the prince, or of “The Jungle Book” without referring to the elephants or tigers? If India is not mentioned in the context of how to solve this broad regional problem, we will never have a strategy, but merely tactical interventions.
It is easy to send our troops into foreign fields, but it is much more difficult to get them out. I remember hearing a Defence Secretary say, “Oh, the soldiers are only going to Afghanistan. They won’t do any shooting. They’ll only be there for a short time.” Then, not so long ago, I think it was one of the senior generals who said, “They could be there for 30 years.” I want to know this: what is our strategy? Does NATO have a strategy? Does the United States have a strategy? I do not seriously expect a full answer to this question tonight, but it must be posed.
With the arrival of a new President in America, we have an opportunity to set Afghanistan in a wider context. Afghanistan was the base where the planning and organisation was done for the killing of people in America, and it is part of the broader base—linked with Pakistan, I accept—whence the people came who killed the Londoners on 7 July 2005. That planning, recruitment, training and killing continues: even today, five people have been blown up at a hospital in Pakistan. I do not have the details, but I do not think that can be divorced from the fact that we face an ideological onslaught on our values.
There is a clearly expressed ideology of militant Islamist fundamentalism that not only wants to kill, but rejects all the values that uphold democracy—the rule of law, open economies, freedom of expression—as well as the rights of those of other religions and women and gays to live their lives as they wish. It is not just western countries who suffer from this ideological assault. Al-Qaeda’s number two, Mr. al-Zawahiri, has stated that the Pakistani Government are “apostate” and should be overthrown. It is time that we drew a much clearer distinction between Islamism as an ideology and the faith of Islam.
We must also recognise that there are great forces around the world with a strategic interest in seeing NATO, the United States, Great Britain, the west and the Euro-Atlantic community defeated. There is an open-ended supply of arms from Iran and other parts of the region to the people who are seeking to kill our soldiers. We can send as many helicopters there as we like, but as the Russians will tell us, helicopters do not do the trick. We can bomb as much as much as we like, too—in 2007, the US air force had almost 3,000 strike hits—but that has not decreased the violence.
Kyrgyzstan is shutting down its supply base for America, so if the Khyber pass is choked off—as seems to be the case—land supplies can come in only through Russia. I do not wish to make comments about Russia in this debate, but putting NATO and America at the mercy of Mr. Putin does not seem strategically wise, so we need to think in a different way. The player that we have to bring in is India.
So far this century, we have sent more than £1 billion to India in development aid, yet India is rich enough to plant its flag on the moon and, as has been described, to be a nuclear-armed power. It is spending up to a reported $1 billion in its own development programme in Afghanistan. Thus, Pakistan feels encircled. There are 500,000 Indian troops in Kashmir and 70,000 Kashmiris have died since the Indian army moved in nearly 20 years ago—far more than all those killed in the middle east. The bulk of the Pakistani military has to focus on that. A country cannot have 500,000 troops actively engaged in training and manoeuvres on its frontier and not take appropriate precautions—there is no example in history of that happening. So we have to say to India that it should de-escalate a bitterly emotional dispute.
Former President Musharraf said that the line of control should be treated as a de facto frontier, and I invite the two Front-Bench teams not to snipe over the question of who raises Kashmir. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was right to repeat the then Senator Obama’s absolute hyphenation between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. To get things going, we have to discuss the Kashmiri issue. When my right hon. Friend came back, he was trashed in The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail—all those papers that just seek to score cheap political points. Let the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) have the guts to say that Kashmir, India and Pakistan need to be discussed, and let us stop sniping about that issue.
While on holiday in India at the new year, I was appalled to read the militaristic language being used against Pakistan, to see maps in Indian papers of Pakistan re-partitioned, to read about serious people discussing a military invasion of Pakistan and to be able to watch a TV show called “Dial Pak for Terror”. We have to get the hyphens back in place; India must bear a responsibility and we must make that clear.