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David Miliband’s visit to India

Alok Rashmi Mukhopadhyay was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 20, 2009

    An article by the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, in The Guardian (January 15) in which he suggested, “resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders” evoked swift responses in the media, political and foreign policy establishments in Delhi. The Ministry of External Affairs was quick in its response that, ”Mr. Miliband is entitled to his views, which are clearly his own and are evolving”. In other words, the new British Foreign Secretary needs time to develop a proper understanding of the security situation in South Asia especially in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks as well as the historical background of the Kashmir issue. When the diversionary and delaying tactics by the Pakistani authorities to distract the main focus of the Indian demand of extraditing the main perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage from Pakistan to India is on, the utterance of the Foreign Minister of an important member of the UN Security Council and a strategic partner of India would seem rather surprising at first glance and needs a brief prognosis.

    Some pertinent questions would definitely arise from the very statement of the visiting Foreign Minister: Are the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary not on the same wavelength? Does an overzealous Foreign Secretary want to outshine his own Prime Minister in denouncing the methods adopted in the ‘War on Terror’? Should it be seen as another instance of sermonising by a visiting dignitary as Miliband wrote (January 12) in his own blog, “It is crazy if these countries cannot find a way to try and help each other”? Is Britain and in general the West indeed worried that if India maintains the diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, then Pakistan would eventually find the excuse to shift its forces from the Western border? At present, the last scenario seems to be more plausible when the supply lines of multinational forces from Pakistan to Afghanistan is continuously being threatened and even Western targets in Afghanistan like the German embassy in Kabul have been attacked on January 17. The response of the British establishment in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks may also be taken into consideration.

    When British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, visited the sub-continent in December 2008, he divulged in Islamabad that an overwhelming majority of terrorist plots investigated in Britain have Pakistani connections. Even during the tragic days of the Mumbai mayhem, the Western and Indian press were deliberating upon the possibilities of the British connections of the terrorists. While in Pakistan, the British premier announced a $9 million grant to counter the threat of extremism. Analysts in this part of the world would be right in their observation that the military establishment in Pakistan was again successful in blackmailing Western nations to pour more funds into Pakistan in the name of tackling the vicious cycle of extremism and terrorism. However, the British case in indeed unique when compared with other Western nations.

    The involvement of terrorists from Britain in different parts of the globe and especially in South Asia even prior to 9/11 is an established fact. The threat of home-grown terrorism in Britain has, nonetheless, not even subsided, despite a number of measures taken by the British authorities as well as surveillance on some suspects in cooperation with Pakistani agencies after the July 7 bombings. But the connections of the British terrorists with Pakistani terrorist organisations are particularly of extreme concern for the British government. Britain at present is facing challenges on two fronts. On the one hand, the terror networks on its own soil with Pakistani connections have to be unearthed and neutralized. On the other hand, British agencies also have to ensure that marinating their forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other international developments should not increase the danger of radicalisation of a part of the younger Muslims at home. Given the historical linkage with the sub-continent, the presence of strong diasporas and movement of people, which is extremely difficult to monitor, the British task at this point could at best be described as delicate balancing. Both Pakistan and Britain need each other to counter the threat jointly. One may therefore conclude that the statements Miliband made were not solely for the sub-continental audience but for the domestic constituency as well.

    It is true that the government of Gordon Brown has deliberately been attempting to distance itself from the rhetoric and coinage of the Blair era and various controversial measures taken in the name of ‘War on Terror’. Miliband’s statement might therefore be intentional in terms of looking at the next general elections in Britain and a hasty attempt to compete with his Prime Minister in engineering contemporary history. In addition, his statement which connects the Mumbai attacks with the Kashmir dispute, would only encourage Pakistan to dilute the focus of its main task at hand. It may be a temporary relief for the Pakistani establishment, whose actions have been under stricter international scrutiny after the Mumbai attacks, but would not guarantee any kind of recurrence of terrorist attacks in India hatched on Pakistani soil. The visit of Miliband will not be remembered as a symbol of solidarity with the victims of terror but an uninformed, superficial approach towards a strategic partner.