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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Straw answers your Kashmir questions
Indian troops search for militants in Srinagar
Indian forces are still on high alert
As tensions between India and Pakistan continue over the Kashmir region, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is due to visit Islamabad and New Delhi again this month for talks.

In an interview with BBC News Online, Mr Straw has answered some of your questions about the fragile situation.

A.H. Cemendtaur, from the US, asked how Mr Straw could convince the leadership of the two countries to resolve their conflict once and for all, and start working for the betterment of their people.

Jack Straw, UK Foreign Secretary
Jack Straw: New visit to region planned
The foreign secretary said: "Like the United States, in this situation we have influence but we don't have power and that's quite proper because we are dealing with two very large sovereign states here.

"What we can do is to encourage both sides initially to take steps to de-escalate from the tension along the line of control and then, over time, to encourage them to dialogue.

"In the end there can only be an agreement if Pakistan and India wills it. What we can do is try and create an environment in which that is easier."

Many BBC News Online users asked what could be done to verify that cross-border terrorism has stopped at the line of control through the Kashmir region.

Mr Straw said: "There has been some progress. It is an inherently intrinsically difficult issue.

"There are various approaches one can use and what we try and do is pool all available information to make the best judgements that we can, but it is difficult.


Such an observer force requires the consent of both sides and at present that has not been forthcoming

Jack Straw
"There are some international observers there - about 45 - from a mandate of long-standing, but for the time being, and in practice, verification has to fall to Indian and Pakistani forces with some assistance from outside because of the terrain and the danger.

"There may come a time when there is a ceasefire and there is a benign environment to monitor when there could be a role for the UN observers.

"Such an observer force requires the consent of both sides and at present that has not been forthcoming."

Mr Straw was also asked by hundreds of BBC News Online users about democracy in Kashmir, post-war UN resolutions for a plebiscite over Kashmir and a question from Istiaq Ahmed about whether there would ever be an independent Kashmir.

He replied: "I am not going to predict the future.

"The first stage of this is for there to be free and fair elections to the state assembly in Jammu and Kashmir.

Search goes on for an agreement between the two sides
"In that context I have welcomed the announcement by the chief elections commissioner for India of various steps which he has taken to strengthen the transparency of the elections including an open invitation to foreign diplomats, for journalists and he says to individuals who are working for NGOs.

"It was a very important announcement which may help ensure that there is a proper focus on the fairness of the elections.

"Of course that has to go alongside a security situation which needs to be improved if people are able to feel free to vote."

So what of the UN resolutions asked about by, among many others, Rahul Shah and Naseem Khan from the US, Parvaiz Ahmadzai and Nasim Zehra from Pakistan, Raza Effendi and Shakeib Arshad from the UK and Amir Ali, from Norway?

"There is a series of UN resolutions from 1948, 1949 and 1950. They call for a variety of things, amongst other things for a plebiscite to determine whether Kashmir should be Indian or Pakistani.


For me to apologise for what the British government did when I was two would sound rather laughable

Jack Straw
"But those resolutions provided no basis for there to be a third choice on the ballot paper of an independent Kashmir.

"The resolutions themselves are the subject of diplomatic argument between India and Pakistan.

"Pakistan says they are the basis for any settlement. India says they were superseded in their effect by a bilateral agreement in 1972.

"We regard all UN resolutions, however what we have to do is look forward as well as back and take account of existing realities.

"The straightforward reality is that, as then by the way, the resolution to this lies in the hands of India and Pakistan."

Massarat Hussain, from the Republic of Ireland, said that at the very least Mr Straw should apologise for the UK's role at the time of partition.

"For me to apologise for what the British government did when I was two would sound rather laughable, but there are for sure legacies of Britain's colonial past all over the world in which we deal.

"Some are good and some are not so good. The legacy of Kashmir is in the category of being not so good."

Radha Krishnan from the US and Bilal Patel from India asked about arms sales to the region by the UK.

Mr Straw said he understood why some people found it difficult to appreciate why the UK was involved in arms sales to India and Pakistan.


Our arms exports are more strictly controlled than almost any other country in the world

Jack Straw
"On the other hand, we are not a pacifist country and I do not believe that we would make the world a safer place by Britain not being involved in defence expenditure here nor in responsible defence exports.

"I have thought about this by the way, because my father was a conscientious objector who went to prison for his beliefs in the war. (the Second World War)

"I have great respect for him but I have really thought it through and I don't take that view."

He added: "Our arms exports are more strictly controlled than almost any other country in the world, along with the United States and Sweden.

"We have clear criteria predicated on the basis that we will only export arms when the criteria are met."

So what will the UK do in the future?

"Our engagement is going to continue.

Elections are due to be held this year
"It's a constant process but precisely what progress can be made does depend on the realities on the ground and the key is an end to cross-border infiltration and then a climate in Jammu and Kashmir in which the elections can take place.

"And on the Pakistani side, action to deal with the terrorist camps and on the Indian side more action to deal with the human rights deficit in Jammu and Kashmir."

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See also:

03 Jul 02 | South Asia
04 Jul 02 | UK Politics
06 Jul 02 | South Asia
01 Jul 02 | South Asia
28 Jun 02 | South Asia
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