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The Third UK-Pakistan Summit: Issues and Concern

Alok Rashmi Mukhopadhyay was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • December 01, 2006

    The Prime Minister of UK, Tony Blair, visited Pakistan in the third week of November to participate in the third UK-Pakistan bilateral summit. The UK-Pak joint statement of December 6, 2004 institutionalised such bilateral meets at the highest level, to 're-energise' the 'partnership for peace and prosperity in the 21st century'. As these bilateral summits are of a strategic nature and are being pursued without interruption since 2004, it is useful to analyse the scope and extent of such bilateral engagement.

    In concrete terms, the latest visit led to an increase in development assistance towards Pakistan for poverty alleviation. The UK decided to double its development assistance to Pakistan from £ 236 million (US$ 456 million) to £480 million (US$ 928 million) in the next three years with an immediate aid assistance of £20 million (US$ 38.7 million). Apart from this, it was also agreed that the UK would deliver two MI 17 helicopters to the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF) of Pakistan in 2007, to add to the Pakistani efforts to patrol the Pak-Afghan border. Both the leaders also discussed the situation in Afghanistan. After the summit meeting, Blair also touched Kabul for the first time and visited the camps of the British troops posted in the southern Afghan city of Helmand.

    The joint declaration adopted at the third Pak-British summit highlights the threat of terrorism and extremism. Throughout the document terrorism is projected as the main threat facing both the countries today.

    Since the inception of the UK-Pakistan strategic dialogue in 2004, terrorism and extremism have topped the agenda of bilateral talks. In fact, after the July 7 terrorist attacks in London in 2005, it was expected that in the 2005 summit meeting, Pakistan might draw the flak from UK especially in view of the reports that three of the suicide bombers were from the Pakistani diaspora and some of them had even visited Pakistan ahead of the attack. There was also a war of words between the leaderships of the two countries. President Musharraf was particularly aggressive when he asked the British leadership to put its own house in order rather than pointing fingers towards Pakistan.

    Against this backdrop there was a strong possibility that the issue of 'Pakistan as the ideological source of extremism in UK' would be highly debated in the summit of 2005. However, the devastating earthquake in the northern area of Pakistan and Kashmir in October 2005 changed the agenda. The London meeting between Tony Blair and the Pakistani Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz in November 2005 mainly discussed the effects of the disaster and ways of mitigating its impact. In the joint press conference after the 2005 summit meeting, however, both Aziz and Blair did not forget to ritualistically reiterate their resolve to fight the menace of terrorism together.

    To be more specific, the UK-Pakistan strategic partnership is focussed entirely on terrorism. UK has a serious cause for concern because the empirical evidence flowing in from individual case studies and investigations done by British and other European intelligence agencies have shown that the young participants apprehended in terrorist activities in Britain and other parts of the world were primarily recruited from South Asian Muslim communities (mostly of Pakistani origin) in Britain.

    The pre-9/11 terror networks had, in fact, facilitated the movement of a small number of young Muslims from UK to Afghanistan. They underwent training there and participated in the Afghan jihad. After the Soviet pull out, these elements were seen to be leaguing up with Taliban and Al Qaeda and contributing to their strategy of a global Jihad. Although the opportunity to take combat trainings in Afghanistan was lost after the fall of Taliban in 2001-2002, the Islamic extremists from Europe were quite visible in different conflict zones around the world. These radical elements had no respect for national boundaries and human values.

    The July 7 suicide bombings have shown that the home-grown extremists in UK would not even spare their home country and strike there as well. More interestingly, the post-7/7 investigations and the reported Heathrow plot also revealed that Pakistan might be serving as a node for at least ideological training of these elements through jihadi organizations in Pakistan. Another cause for concern is that the Jihadi terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), though already proscribed in Pakistan and UK, do not appear to have been totally neutralised in both the countries.

    Stricter surveillance at British and Pakistani airports have already been in place in order to monitor suspected terrorist activities, but given the volume of air traffic between the two countries and the close relationship between the one million strong Pakistani community in UK and its country of origin, it is indeed a formidable task for the concerned authorities to keep a constant vigil on the transit of the extremists between these two countries and isolate them effectively.

    On the other hand, even after one year of joint investigations, stricter surveillance and joint anti-terrorist operations, the British and Pakistani authorities have not been able to reduce the threat from terrorists for UK. The magnitude of the threat took the UK security system by surprise in the wake of the reported plot to attack the Heathrow airport in August 2006, which unsettled the whole global air traffic system for quite some days.

    Radicalisation of younger generation of Muslims in the name of religion, and their participation in terrorist activities in Britain and elsewhere has remained the most imminent threat facing international community today. If the recent warning of Elizabeth Manningham-Buller, the director of British domestic intelligence agency (MI5) is examined carefully, two important issues come to fore. Firstly, the threat is indeed real and the agencies do not have any immediate solution except close and painstaking observation of terror cells and modules. And secondly, even if it is obligatory on the part of states to cooperate with one another to tackle the menace of terror, in the long run, the onus of defending one's own country against terrorist attacks rests primarily with every individual country. This is true of UK as well. Although the UK has been closely cooperating with other nations- be it at the European or at the international levels-, it is the UK which has to formulate its own counterterrorism policy keeping in view its own security requirements and its own understanding of the radical and restive young Muslim constituency within UK, which is amenable to indoctrination by extremist and terrorist organisations.

    The strategic character of this threat became obvious when in November 2006, the British Department for Education and Skills published a guidance paper titled "Promoting Good Campus Relations: Working With Staff and Students to Build Community Cohesion and Tackle Violent Extremism in the Name of Islam". Based upon various instances and observations (some of them are however debatable) on the methods of recruitment by radical Islamist organisations in educational institutes, this document attempts to arrest the trend of further radicalisation. It remains to be seen whether some of the eight recommendations made in the document would be feasible and could be realised in the future. However it is certain that addressing the threat requires whole-hearted participation of the community leadership, lawmakers of Asian origin, media and the British political leadership to devise an antidote to such radicalism.

    In an interesting development, a recent study prepared at a think-tank, close to the British Ministry of Defence, has come out with its findings that "indirectly, Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism, whether in London on 7/7 or in Afghanistan or Iraq". Although the British Ministry of Defence has distanced itself from the study, it was an embarrassment for the Pakistani government. Nonetheless, the study buttressed by field trips done in Pakistan in June this year, reemphasises ISI's all-too-familiar strategy of 'run with the hare and hunt with the hounds'.

    In the days ahead, occasional attempts from British and Pakistani governments to put the blame for the radicalisation of a small part of the Muslim community on the other may continue. Hence the bonhomie between the two leaders may seem perfect at present, but the complex terror networks, allegedly nurtured either by the ISI or forces within Pakistan unrelated to the state agencies, would continue to make the 'strategic partnership' more complex and at times even critical, irrespective of change of political leadership in London and Islamabad.