Thursday 30th June 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I hope that your Lordships have noticed how much of the Commonwealth is represented in your Lordships’ House today. It shows that we are interested in knowing what is happening to the Commonwealth, as much as we want to share.

One of the things which I feel were done incorrectly was line-drawing on a map. People were not consulted on whether they would like to be with each other, and some of the countries have had problems as a result, not to mention India and Pakistan. In India, we did not have the line of separation until a month before it came into force. We were very close to the line, so my family was very anxious, because they wanted to know where they were going to live. In the end, we were refugees in Delhi. We were not against an old building but we were still refugees, because my father left everything he owned behind.

My main feeling about the Commonwealth is that its members have not learned to understand one another, because until you do that, you do not do things together. When I first went to one of its meetings some years ago, the French-speaking and the English-speaking members had very few ways of communicating with one another. I hope that that has gone, but it is an example of how things can go wrong without meaning to go wrong. If there are two tribes who do not like each other, you do not want to put them in one country. I do not think that any research of that kind was done before the lines were drawn on the map. It is one of the weaknesses of the Commonwealth that I am not sure that everybody likes everybody else who lives next door to them.

As for India and Pakistan, first of all, it was going to be Muslim countries together and Hindus separate. Kashmir is a Muslim region, and it should definitely have gone to Pakistan; it has no business to be given to India, but it was not given to India either—it does not belong to anybody except itself. There is no end of problems with it, and they will not be resolved unless some definite action is taken. The UN said that we could have a plebiscite. We should have one. That would resolve the question of who it wants to be with. That is not for me to resolve, because I have no power to do anything. If I did, I would say, “Have a plebiscite.” The other thing we could do is try to increase the trade links, which we do not—we have a lot of army links, but no trade links, and that is not very good either. It is a big mess and I do not know whether it can be resolved. People have pretended to try to resolve it, but they have not been able to. Maybe the new generation, such as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, will have something to do with it and resolve something that is terrible.

A very senior Pakistani general said to me, “There’ll be no more war between India and Pakistan—a proper war—because we know we can’t win.” That is true—we are so much bigger than them—but imagine making a Pakistan whose main part was in one place and another little part, Bangladesh, was 1,500 miles away. How can a country work like that? It cannot work as a country if you have two very definite, separate bits, and it did not, so they attacked Bangladesh, which did not go down too well with India.

Anyway, here we are. That is what we are left with, so we have got to make the best of it.