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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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here