Letters: Peace in Kashmir

Earthquake offers an opportunity for peace in Kashmir
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The Independent Online

Sir: Since Saturday's devastating earthquake in South Asia, various theories have been propounded by certain members of the Pakistani community in Britain: punishment from God for Pakistan starting Ramadan two days late; Allah's message to Pakistan for building ties with Israel.

Clearly, this is not the time to be attempting to read the mind of God. However, what has become apparent is the need for a regional response to the disaster by both India and Pakistan; and the importance of continuing talks between the two nations on the issue of Kashmir.

The epicentre of the earthquake - near the so-called "Line of Control" which separates the disputed region - and the destruction on both sides of the de facto border is a message to both countries to make progress to resolve the crisis which has plagued the region since the British withdrew in 1947. Two wars have already been fought over Kashmir (with near misses in 1987 and 2002); tens of thousands have already been killed.

With both countries armed with nuclear weapons, the stakes are high. If anything positive can emerge from such a disaster, it is hope that co-operation in the relief effort will strengthen ties further between the two states - a necessary condition for peace in Kashmir.



Must voters despair of the Tory party?

Sir: Here we go again. Groundhog Day in the Tory Party leadership contest. Same old ABC (Anyone But Clarke) dénouement. Same glee in the Labour and Lib Dem camps. Same exasperation, disbelief and despair among floating voters, whose eternal drift on the clear blue water makes the Kon-Tiki expedition seem like a day-trip to Calais.

Those ancient creaking oracles, their knee-jerk reflexes in remarkably good working order, hysterically denounce and thwart Ken Clarke - the very person who can reach out to the younger generation, broaden the Party's appeal and attract floating voters. The old party warhorse, after eight years of this debilitating ABC fever, finds itself led to the water and once more it perversely, with its blistered and swollen tongue hanging out, refuses to slake its thirst.

To a rational outsider, Ken is head, shoulders and beer gut above the other contenders. He is the only candidate to combine heavyweight experience with broad popular appeal. He would wipe the floor with Brown. He is the battle-ready destroyer. The other contenders merely form part of a flotilla bobbing along in his wake. It beggars belief that the party is prepared yet again to gamble recklessly with our future on an untested colt who could fall at the first fence. Blair and Brown will have him for breakfast.

The Tory party and its members, in their infinite wisdom, elected Hague and IDS over Ken Clarke. We are reaching breaking point. If winning the next election is paramount, elect Ken Clarke. If it is not, turn off the life-support machine.



Sir: After listening to the presentations of the various Tory leadership aspirants, the sterile Europhobia of Mr Davis and Mr Fox seems a recipe for economic and national suicide.

Mr Fox's fanatical Atlanticism begs some serious historical questions. Roosevelt's America refused to respond to the plight of Mr Fox's "new Europe" when Germany raped Czechoslovakia, anschlussed Austria and invaded Poland. It took the Japanese attack on "homeland America", Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, to suck in the USA.

Having watched much of "old Europe" laid waste, America, largely through self-interest, given the new Communist threat from Stalin, funded the Marshall Plan out of a prosperous war-economy budget surplus. Subsequently it played a leading role, with European assistance, in resisting Communist adventures in Korea (successful) and Vietnam (unsuccessful).

Over the same period, Europe has learnt the need to change and today's Europe, with power disseminated over large and small countries in the new 25-state union, bears no comparison to the self-centred war-mongering "old Europe". This new European Union, after 50 years, does need reform. But that will not be achieved by the likes of Davis and Fox, who want to dismantle it. Reform will come from leaders who believe that Europe has become and will remain, with or without Britain, the leading "transatlantic" player on the world scene.

Reformists will need some strong allies from other member states. Mr Fox's call to quit the centre-right Christian Democratic alliance, the largest bloc in the European Parliament, demonstrates his lack of grasp of European realities. Deserting the Christian Democrats would leave Mr Fox with some interesting potential allies including the Paisleyites, the National Front, the Greens, the Communists and sundry permanently vacillating independent prima donnas - not a recipe to put the Conservatives on course.



Sir: The Conservative party will be on the road to modernisation when the majority of its MPs cease to be the Parliamentary wing of the Countryside Alliance. The 2005 manifesto committed it to introduce a Bill overturning the ban on hunting with dogs. Yet only 26 per cent of the electorate opposed the ban. Alternatively, those in the party who still see dressing up in scarlet coats and blowing hunting horns as compatible with campaigning in urban marginal seats in the 21st century can continue to urge the electorate to change its view and fall into line with them.



Sir : When will the Tories wake up? David Davis states that they should not keep apologising? Don't they realise that because of their collective failure to apologise for the Thatcher legacy they will never win power?

Talk of caring Conservatism doesn't wash with those of us who remember the devastation Thatcher's policies brought to society. Until they distance themselves from this perceived golden era of Conservatism, they stand no chance.



'Viable' Palestinian state in danger

Sir: Recent remarks by senior Israelis make it possible to discern the shape of a possible Israeli future unilateral strategy.

Thus Brigadier General Eyval Giladi was reported as saying on 28 September that "There is going to be a fence, and they are going to be on one side and we are going to be on the other". On the same day, Eyal Arad, a senior strategy adviser to the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, said in a broadcast that if the peace process continues to be stalled, Israel will consider annexing West Bank territory and withdraw to what the Jewish state would set as its permanent border. Finally, there is Mr Sharon's frequently stated intention to expand major settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem (contrary to the Road Map) and keep them.

In effect, this would achieve unilaterally what Barak "offered" at Camp David in 2000, a non-viable autonomous but not independent Palestinian "state" comprising several non-contiguous areas, with no international borders, and with travel between its several areas controlled by Israel; an offer which President Arafat rightly rejected as not meeting Palestinians' minimum aspirations for peace with justice.

Mr Blair talked in his Labour Party conference speech of a "viable, democratic and independent state of Palestine", which is very different, and President Bush has used similar words. It is time they opened their eyes to see what is actually intended on the ground.



How the faithful gave up on Labour

Sir: From my experience in Hemel Hempstead, Tom Simpson's statement that Blair's recruits to the Labour Party are those who left (Letters, 6 October) is not true.

I was a member from about 1986 until 2002. Many who left the party were of longer standing than I. They were thoughtful, gave financial support and worked for the party, especially at elections.

Disillusionment began to set in long before the illegal invasion of Iraq, which was the last straw. PPP in health, education and transport, tuition fees and a lack of compassion for those in need were among the reasons cited for giving up on Labour. Locally, many of those who left the Party were those that it could ill afford to lose. We never saw Blair's recruits.



Shooting birds with an air rifle

Sir: Roy Asser's concern for the welfare of pheasants is praiseworthy, though he may be under a misapprehension if he thinks that all pheasant shooting results in a clean kill (letter, 8 October).

However, he definitely underestimates the skill of the users of airguns. Any country lad of my generation, in the 1950s, would have been laughed out of the village if he couldn't shoot a sparrow through the head at 25 yards with a smoothbore airgun, let alone with a decent air rifle. The modern air rifle with decent sights should easily kill a pheasant.

Pheasants shot with an air rifle are much better to eat than are those killed with shotguns. They only contain one slightly chewable pellet, as opposed to the multitude of tooth-cracking shot in the normal pheasant. I wish Sam Little good shooting on his lawn.



The god who sent Bush off to war

Sir: None of your correspondents on the subject of God commanding Bush to invade Afghanistan and Iraq raised the issue of which god (letters, 8 October).

The Christian god has made very few public pronouncements, but among them are two unequivocal commands: "You shall not kill" and "Love your neighbour as yourself". These are quite incompatible with war, involving the killing of thousands of both combatants and non-combatants.

So, given that it is not the Christian god, which god is it that is controlling America through George Bush? My own guess would be that it is Mammon.



Sir: With due respect to your many correspondents' views on the motivation behind the war in Iraq am I alone in finding the rationale of "God told me to do it" slightly more credible than the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?



Sir: How depressing. Here we are in the early 21st century and we have embarked on a religious war where both sides believe that God has given them the authority to kill thousands in His name. Bush, Blair, Bin Laden - spot the difference.



Choice will bring a better health service

Sir: Steve Richards is only half right in what he says about choice in public services ("The new orthodoxy: we need choice in public services - to help the poor", 30 September). The overall aim of public policy should be improved services and not simply wider choice - but choice and personalisation are part of the improvement.

In the NHS, for instance, the private sector is being used both to increase capacity and to create a more responsive service. Independent sector treatment centres rapidly and effectively undertake common procedures, so reducing waiting times. The choice being offered does not threaten the universal service or undermine the principle that clinical need should determine priorities.

The other example identified - GPs not being available at the weekend - is surely one that reinforces the case for reform and competition amongst suppliers within the framework of a universal service. Market forces should be used to increase capacity and draw in new suppliers prepared to offer a weekend service and contract with the NHS to ensure delivery remains free at the point of need.



Wrong Harold

Sir: In his efforts to condemn Labour's conduct ("We must rethink our foreign policy", 7 October), Malcolm Rifkind rewrites history. It was Harold Wilson (not MacMillan) who resisted Lyndon Johnson's pressure to send British troops to Vietnam, a precedent in the Special Relationship sadly lost on the present office-holder.



Votes for prisoners

Sir: Democracy should mean that all those who are subject to the laws of the land, whether or not they choose to obey them, should have a say in what those laws should be. Therefore all who live in this country, prisoners included, should be entitled to vote. It follows also that the many thousands of Britons who have chosen to live in France, Spain, and elsewhere should have the right to vote in those countries, but not in Britain.



Verbal error

Sir: If you're going to be a language pedant, take care that your own house is in order. Guy Keleny (Errors and Omissions, 8 October) berates a columnist for using the wrong inflection when declining the verb "to be". As those of us who suffered Latin at school will know, nouns have declensions; verbs have conjugations.



Praising gas-guzzlers

Sir: I agree entirely with Jeremy Bugler's criticism of your boy-racer motoring writers (letter, 7 October). Is it not hypocritical for you to feature articles on the damage caused by global warming and, at the same time, to tell people to go out and buy the weapons causing the destruction? We all know what is happening to the planet, but no one seems to see the links to our own actions. I think your motoring writers should include environmental damage as one of the main criteria when reviewing a car.



Boots the bookshop

Sir: Unlike Mary Williams (letter, 7 October) I never had the pleasure of afternoon tea at Boots. I do, however, remember when my local store was about the best place to buy books in the town where I lived at the time. It is a pity they didn't keep their dictionaries, which might have helped them avoid describing writing materials as "stationary", which the store in Peterborough was doing this week.