What is our counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan?

Behind the media outrage at spending cuts is a fundamental lack of clarity on policy

Baroness Kinnock caused a stir yesterday when she said that international counterterrorism spending has been cut as a result of fluctuations in the value of the pound. Speaking of an overall Foreign Office shortfall of £110m, she said:

It is a fact that counterterrorism and radicalisation projects in Pakistan and elsewhere have been the subject of these cuts that the Foreign Office has been obliged to make.

Her comments came soon after Gordon Brown said that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was the "crucible of terror".

The Foreign Office swiftly produced a statement defending Pakistan policy, saying that counterterrorism spending has increased year on year and, judging by current plans, will continue to do so:

Pakistan has remained our top priority for counterterrorism and has rightly been the largest single recipient of our counterterrorism support throughout this period. We are constantly reviewing the precise allocation of our counterterrorism spending to ensure that programmes are most likely to reduce the threat of terrorism and radicalisation.

What does this mean? A narrow focus on numbers risks missing the point -- it's a political platitude that spending doesn't translate into effective policy, but it is true. Non-specific phrases, such as "counterterrorism" and "radicalisation", go without interrogation at home and abroad. Add to this the mystery in which UK and US policy in Pakistan is frequently couched, and it seems that behind the outrage at spending cuts is very little idea about what exactly this money is meant to be doing. So, what does counterterrorism in Pakistan entail?

Gordon Brown gave a speech to the House of Commons in April outlining Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, as "we can no longer consider the terrorist threats arising in the two countries in isolation from each other". He outlined two proposals:

First, we want to work with the elected government and the army . . . Pakistan has a large, a well-funded army and we want to work with them to help them counter terrorism by taking more control of the border areas.

And secondly in Pakistan -- not least through our support for education and development -- we want to prevent young people falling under the sway of violent and extremist ideologies.

These are both important aims. But precisely how will counterterrorism funds help to keep young people away from radicalisation? Of course, education and development are vital -- just 56 per cent of the population is literate, while 60.3 per cent live on less than $2 a day. These are ripe conditions for people to fall prey to extremist groups promising a better life.

Brown continued:

Britain's development programme in Pakistan will become our second-largest worldwide. We will provide £665m in assistance over the next four years but we will refocus much of our aid -- including over £125m of education spending -- on the border areas of Pakistan.

Today's Foreign Office statement recalls this figure, saying:

Looking more broadly than counterterrorism, the UK is the second-largest aid donor to Pakistan and we are increasing our aid for the period 2009-2013 to £665m.

It is worth pointing out that, while commendable, this appears to be part of a "wider" aid package, distinct from targeted counterterrorism funding.

As such, the question still stands: what exactly are the programmes most likely to reduce radicalisation, and why are we so angry that less is being spent on them?

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue