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?

 

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

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.