Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, dismissed fierce criticism from MPs yesterday about the sale of British arms to India and Pakistan insisting they would make no difference to the tension between the two countries over Kashmir.
This year the government has approved licences covering the export of a large range of weapons to India and Pakistan, including bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, howitzers and components for military aircraft, according to parliamentary answers given to MPs.
However, Mr Straw - who met senior Indian officials in New Delhi yesterday in a fresh attempt to start up negotiations with Pakistan over the disputed state of Kashmir - told BBC radio that the government's export guidelines were applied "very carefully".
"It happens that the decisions in which I was directly involved were ones I made in February before there was an increase in tension," he said. They had made "no difference whatsoever to the level of tension across the line of control [in Kashmir]".
MPs on four Commons committees said they were "surprised" Mr Straw had not insisted on personally examining all arms export licence applications to the region at a time of heightened tension.
He told the Commons last month that although no licence applications had been blocked during the previous two months, he had not actually approved any licences for the two countries.
He later disclosed in a letter to the MPs that 148 licences had been issued for India during that period and another 18 for Pakistan, although he had not personally been involved.
The MPs said the tension over Kashmir should have triggered the government's export guideline which says sales will be blocked if there is a clear risk the weapons could used "aggressively against another country".
They added: "We conclude that if the situation in India and Pakistan in the spring of this year did not fully engage criterion four, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances short of all-out war which would do so.
"The stand-off over Kashmir should in our view have led to its application with very great vigour ... We are surprised by the indication in the foreign secretary's letter that he was not personally involved in the approval of all applications to export military goods to the region during the period of greatest regional tension."
Although India and Pakistan have stepped back from the brink of war in the past two months, diplomats on both sides believe the threat of conflict remains serious. At least a million soldiers are deployed on the border and brutal Islamist militant attacks inside Kashmir have continued.
Yesterday the Indian army said it shot dead five militants who were trying to cross from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir near Srinagar. A week ago, in one of the worst incidents for several weeks, suspected Islamist gunmen attacked a Hindu slum on the outskirts of Jammu, killing 28 people.
In May under intense American pressure Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, ordered his army to stop militants from crossing into Kashmir. Now New Delhi is pressuring Gen Musharraf to close down remaining militant training camps inside Pakistan. Some in the Indian government, particularly the hardliner Lal Khrishna Advani who was recently promoted to deputy prime minister, want Pakistan declared a "terrorist state".
On Thursday the Indian foreign ministry said Mr Straw would be told that New Delhi believed militants were still crossing into Kashmir and that there had been a "lack of a satisfactory response and action by Pakistan".
Mr Straw flies to Islamabad later today when the Pakistani military regime will tell him that it wants India to begin talks on the future of Kashmir.
Speaking in Hong Kong before he flew to India, Mr Straw said he would use his visit to urge New Delhi and Islamabad to resume a "sustained dialogue" over Kashmir.