Arms row clouds Straw visit

MPs surprised at weapons sales to India and Pakistan

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.


Richard Norton-Taylor, and Rory McCarthy in Islamabad

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

UK selling arms to India
The government approved arms sales to India and Pakistan throughout the Kashmir crisis, at a time when ministers were warning about the dispute spreading beyond the region and telling British citizens to leave the area immediately.

Richard Norton-Taylor

20, Jun, 2002 @12:05 AM

£1bn arms push to India
The government is mounting an intensive campaign to boost arms sales to India, including 60 Hawk jets worth £1bn, in spite of the danger of the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir spilling into war and destabilising the entire region.

Richard Norton-Taylor and Ewen MacAskill

12, Jan, 2002 @12:02 PM

Pressure grows for arms embargo
The government was coming under growing pressure last night to impose an arms embargo on India and Pakistan as it flatly denied reports that it had blocked the proposed sale of more than 60 Hawk jets to India in a deal worth £1bn.

Richard Norton-Taylor

27, May, 2002 @11:56 PM

Leader: Jack of all trades
Is Straw a peacemaker or a salesman?


28, May, 2002 @1:28 AM

Straw hint on Kashmir deal
The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, yesterday struck an optimistic note at the end of his two-day trip to India and Pakistan and said that though the situation remained dangerous a war on the subcontinent was "not inevitable".

Luke Harding, in New Delhi

30, May, 2002 @1:37 AM

Kashmir tensions easing, Straw tells MPs
The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, today told MPs there was cause for "some optimism" in the ongoing nuclear stand-off between India and Pakistan over the territory of Kashmir.

Matthew Tempest, political correspondent

10, Jun, 2002 @3:51 PM

Straw takes peace mission to India
The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, has left for New Delhi on the second leg of his diplomatic bid to avert a nuclear war over Kashmir, following talks with Pakistan's military leader in Islamabad this morning.

Staff and agencies

28, May, 2002 @1:53 PM

Cook considers arms sale suspension
Robin Cook, the leader of the Commons, yesterday suggested that the government is poised to block the sale to India of 60 Hawk jets, worth £1bn, as part of international efforts to defuse the crisis with Pakistan over Kashmir.

Michael White and Richard Norton-Taylor

27, May, 2002 @7:50 AM

Jack Straw sent in amid fears of nuclear crisis
Britain, the US and the EU are to send envoys to India and Pakistan over the next week amid fears that the Indian-Pakistani tension over Kashmir is about to spill over into war.

Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor

22, May, 2002 @10:20 AM

Britain seeks to sell arms despite crisis
Britain is still trying to profit from the Indian arms market, despite a growing threat of war with Pakistan and the government's official guidelines on weapons exports.

Richard Norton-Taylor

24, May, 2002 @1:16 AM