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21 January 2010

What is our counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan?

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

By Samira Shackle

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:

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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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