Exporting terror

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent remarks about Pakistan promoting the “export of terror” have started a diplomatic row. On a visit to India, Mr Cameron said that “we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways” and is able to export terror to India, Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. These remarks have led to a war of words between London and Islamabad, even putting in the doldrums President Zardari’s visit to London next week. Though latest reports suggest that the president would still go on a five-day visit from August 3, cancelling the trip altogether or deferring it had been considered. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that “any suggestion that falsifies facts and tends to put the entire onus of terrorism on Pakistan” is “totally unacceptable”.

There may be a number of reasons that prompted the British prime minister to make such candid but controversial remarks. Mr Cameron visited India with one of the largest UK trade delegations in order to enhance economic ties between the two countries. Britain wants India to buy its armaments and Indian big business to invest in the UK. Many are of the view that the remarks about Pakistan were made to please his Indian hosts but Mr Cameron reiterated that it was “important to speak frankly and clearly about these issues” and he will continue to do so. Whatever the reason behind these remarks, the whole furore has to be placed in the context of the recent WikiLeaks scandal. The whole world is up in arms after the WikiLeaks alleged our security establishment’s role in destabilising Afghanistan and the ISI’s links with terrorist networks. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has dubbed the leaks “extremely irresponsible” but said that the war against terrorism is in the “sanctuaries, funding centres and training places outside Afghanistan” (read Pakistan). He called on his western allies to take action against them and questioned why they have not done so till now. Mr Karzai’s question has pitted Islamabad against Kabul once again. In sharp contrast to these highly critical comments, the US is taking a relatively soft line. US Vice President Joe Biden said that though the links of the ISI with the militants was a problem in the past, “it is a problem we are dealing with and is changing”.

The inexperience of Mr Cameron is visible as far as international diplomacy is concerned and he seems to be on a learning curve. David Miliband, former British foreign secretary, has criticised Mr Cameron and remarked that there is a “big difference between straight talking and being a loudmouth”. Mr Miliband, having been the foreign secretary under Mr Brown, recognises the sensitivity of these comments and knows how delicately poised the effort to persuade Pakistan and its security establishment, particularly the ISI, to come on board and change tack in this anti-terrorism struggle has been. As the withdrawal from Afghanistan looms, everybody has come down a peg or two from their respective extreme positions, with the Afghans and the coalition forces advocating having talks with the Taliban.

David Cameron’s remarks have created more ripples and waves than was necessary. The important question that needs to be asked is whether the ISI has actually stopped supporting the Afghan Taliban or not. This suspicion cannot be easily dispelled unless and until our security establishment wakes up to the threat to Pakistan’s credibility and the financial trouble that we may end up in if the west decides that we are guilty of playing a double game. The US-led NATO forces and the Afghans may have their vulnerabilities, but our misadventures may cost us more than we bargained for. It is time to come clean and understand the importance of being on the same page as the anti-terrorist forces, in the region and the world at large.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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