Is Britain anything more than a nuisance?

David Miliband’s trip raises serious questions on Britain’s role in countering terrorism

Never in recent times has a visiting foreign minister been so flippant and so insensitive. The flippancy concerns a bizarre trip to Rahul Gandhi’s rural constituency, the purpose of which is unfathomable beyond cheap political theatre.

But the British foreign secretary’s speech at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai—just over a month ago the site of one of the worst terrorist attacks in India—sets a new low in terms of its sheer insensitivity. For here is a leader of a foreign country, speaking at the site of a terrorist attack, not only telling India to co-operate with a country that refused so much to acknowledge the bleedingly obvious fact that the terrorist attack was of Pakistani provenance, but went so far as to call attention “to be alive to the impact of our counter-terrorism strategies on minorities. As the Sachar Committee reported, India’s Muslims remain socially and economically disadvantaged.”

Mr Miliband’s claim that “we share your anguish, we admire your resolve, and we are determined to work in close collaboration to address the threats we face” seems hollow, empty and patently insincere. If he shared India’s anguish, he would not have taken a position that compromises India’s demands on Pakistan. If he admired India’s resolve he wouldn’t have ignored the fact that co-operation over the last half-decade neither prevented the Mumbai attacks (and others before it) nor cause the Pakistani government to act with sincerity after their occurrence.

Britain might be ready to work with close collaboration to address the threats “we” face, but Mr Miliband’s statements must give the Indian government pause for thought. His contention that different terrorist groups have nothing to do with each other is only partially true. Perhaps the LTTE and the Naxalites have nothing to do with Hezbollah. But to suggest that there is no international network of Islamist terrorism is to indulge in vacuous political correctness or, as Melanie Philips describes it, to demonstrate “astounding shallowness”. But if we accept Mr Miliband’s contention—that the jihadis that attack Mumbai are not quite the same as the ones who attack Britain—then why should India collaborate with Britain at all? Perhaps the British government should be left to ‘cooperate’ with Islamabad to address the 75% of terrorism cases that it claims (without credible evidence, come to think of it) can be tracked back to Pakistan.

Britain must ask itself whether it intends to be part of a solution or merely a nuisance in the war against jihadi terrorism, which for India is very real indeed. Mr Miliband’s newfound dislike for the “war on terror” in the last week of the Bush administration’s term is opportunistic and linked to Britain’s attempt to extricate its armed forces out of Afghanistan where they have not exactly covered themselves in glory. But it is wholly unnecessary for Britain to recommend a Partition (this time of Jammu & Kashmir) every time it retreats from the subcontinent.

Mr Miliband ostensibly came to India to ‘defuse tensions’ with Pakistan. He has succeeded in creating new ones—with Britain. India’s response to Mr Miliband’s comments must extend beyond rebutting his words. Some cooling of relations is in order.

Update: Richard Beeston, foreign editor of The Times calls David Miliband out; Siddharth Varadarajan reports that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee didn’t take Mr Miliband’s hectoring too kindly. They would do well to ensure that such acts are costly.

41 thoughts on “Is Britain anything more than a nuisance?”

  1. I believe this is all because Raul Vinci took the kid to his constituency and showed the ‘real’ India. The effect was such that the kid thought India is still part of the Raj. That is the reason he quoted the Sachar committee report, which no other foreign politician would have done for fear of interfering in another country’s internal affairs.

  2. Nitin,

    Surely you are overreacting. His views are simply a reaffirmation of some of the erroneous beliefs that have persisted in the west notwithstanding 9/11. That is not surprising given that the debate in the House of Lords on the Mumbai attack reflected the leftist perspective considerably which goes to show that it remains a prominent viewpoint in Britain. But there is nothing so dramatic in anything he has said to prompt a cooling of relations.Miliband does not say that the terrorists who attacked the UK are not the ones who attacked us. It is naive to expect that the UK will want to antagonize the Pakistani government when they see no real alternative but to work with it. And when the Bush administration itself is talking of Indo-Pak cooperation, one cannot seriously expect the UK to take a hard line and support Indian accusations. A polite but firm rebuttal is called for but nothing more.

  3. I wonder if our good friend Raul Vinci cared to mention that Amethi is a familial stronghold? As you say, Britain is nothing more than a nuisance. The foreign policy intellect of that entire nation is geared towards “Development”, “Darfur” and the “Middle East”. It has zilch geopoliticl weight and has been hanging on to America’s coattails sine 1945. It’s an absolute shame that they didn’t learn a thing about India in their 200 year stint.

    The fact that Milliband brings up the Kasmir-is-the-root of all ills theory demonstrates the FCO’s naivete. Pakistan used terrorism as a form of state policy in Kashmir to gain strategic depth against India once it became obvious that conventional parity wasn’t possible. That’s the root cause.

  4. Bobcat,

    The UK is entitled to its positions. But when those positions are articulated from Taj Mumbai, they do not remain positions—they become something altogether different. Punishing bad behaviour is almost always good idea, and in this case, necessary. Because you don’t want such acts to be inexpensive. And yes, at times like this, over-reaction is warranted.

  5. “Give me Shariat, or give me RDX” is the slogan of the terrorists around the world. Mr. Miliband suggests we better give them Shariat. Seems like a sensible advice to me, don’t you think 😉

  6. Interesting to note Mr. Milliband also made some noises blaming Pakistan and what’d you know, New Delhi is now making concessions for a dual prosecution or supporting pakistani trial of the suspects. The timing of Mr. Miliband’s critique of the “war on terror”, 5 days before the Obama govt. walks into White House, is rather ominous, seeing how Britain has tradionally played second fiddle to US in international matters. They are clearly redeeming themselves after supporting the Bush administration. Therefore, one question begs, is this reflective of Obama government’s policy on the “war on terror” too?

    As far as the rural Indian picnic is concerned, I think it’s the old diplomatic move à la Gandhi-style: hobnobbing with the who’s who to secure personal gains (in this case, adorning Mr. Gandhi’s cap with bright feathers as someone who can just as easily mix international politicos with India’s poor while simultaneously gaining brownie points from the minorities). Whether such goodwill will ever benefit the state, is something only time will tell. It’s clearly proven in history that the Nehru-Gandhi brigade has never quite succeeded in using their celebrity clout for any other gains, except their own. Personally, I believe if Mr. Miliband’s visit can showcase India’s economic growth in the rural areas, it does serve some purpose.

  7. You were right when you twittered, “Milliband is a misguided attempt by Britain to protect itself. The jihadis will not see the difference”. Britain sets new lows in political correctness and pandering each day.

    This chap was given the usual “fawning coverage” in the Indian media, why, I wonder.

  8. Nitin, I am afraid that you are letting your patriotism come in the way of a dispassionate analysis.

    Milibund’s statements may have been insensitive, but is not senseless. In his article in The Guardian, before his trip to India, he made it clear that, ‘those who were responsible must be brought to justice and the government of Pakistan must take urgent and effective action to break up terror networks on its soil.”. At the same time he argues that ‘that the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation… and that the resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.’

    The mention of Kashmir always touches a raw nerve in us. We can continue to maintain that it is an integral part of India and an issue settled decades back, but the rest of the world seems to believe that it is still a disputed territory. We cannot keep deluding ourselves that it is a closed chapter. Sometime or other, we need to get down to the basic issues. When Milibund says that we must look at terrorism in a larger context, he is not wrong. This is the same point that the Sri Lankan writer, Lasanka Wikramatunge has made, posthumously, in his editorial last week- that the LTTE issue must be viewed in a larger framework and the root cause identified.

    And, on the treatment of “minorities”, surely he is not the first to make that point?

  9. Dear Raj,

    Unless your intention is to provoke a flame war on this post, there is absolutely nothing of value, additional or original, in your paraphrasing of Mr Miliband’s comments.

    Instead of paraphrasing the rebuttals, I would only point you to the links to Richard Beeston’s and Melanie Philips’s articles, to be found in my post.

  10. Raj,

    Forgot to add: There is a big difference between being dispassionate and trying to be neutral. This blog does not purport to be neutral in matters of India’s self-interest. Moreover, it has no sympathy for those who try to cloak themselves in neutrality, albeit under the pretense of being dispassionate, on such issues.

  11. Great post, and spot on about Britain.

    Also, it appears Mr. Raul Vinci has not got the memo that India attained independence from British Raj in 1947.

  12. Hi Raj,
    What about Hyderabad, Junagad and other areas “claimed” by jehadis?
    Surely that is not going to be solved by “handing” over kashmir!
    You have to “hand over” these too and the new areas that they will then “claim”.
    Where does it end?
    Better to sort them out at this stage itself.

  13. And this from a man serving in an administration that orchestrated intelligence scams to attack Iraq and orchestrated a cover up when someone who looked like ‘a minority’ was shot by its security forces. Nice guys, the Brits.

    Truly insensitive this charlatan is, to mouth off so at the Taj of all places. What was Kasab’s grievance against India, let alone the innocent victims?

  14. While we are at it, let Britain come forward with some truths about its role in creating Kashmir, Tibet, Palestine and other such nice problems and how they have treated the Chagos islanders, using royal decree or other such archaic provisions to overrule the courts.

  15. Nitin,

    Good post, If Miliband’s comments reflects UK’s position, then India must seriously consider hitting back at both pakistan and UK in some ways. How I wish India does find some way. Perhaps bite the bullet and call pakistan’s bluff.


  16. Is China suddenly trying to increase it’s own nuisance factor?

    As we know, Indians have been speculating very publicly about possible military action against Pakistan, including even a new Indian military deployment to Afghanistan. In light of this, it seems rather noteworthy that China is suddenly escalating the rhetoric on its own border disputes with India.


    It seems to me that they’re doing this now, because they want to distract India from taking any action against its ally Pakistan.

  17. In relation to Mr. Miliband’s observations, we must look in the mirror and ask if, post 26-11, we have acted in a manner that invites respect from the world

    Instead of waging war as was warranted, New Delhi has seen fit to adopt a “calibrated” response based on an astonishingly naive belief in diplomacy. Unfortunately, it has been egged-on in this misadventure by “realist” commentators such as even this ordinarily reasonable blog

    After every terror attack, India’s response has been weighed down by a cost-benefit calculation — that we will lose more in commerce and international relations than we will gain in war. Consequently, no provocation is large enough to merit a real response — not an attack on the parliament, not 26/11, and certainly not the mowing down of ordinary innocents almost every other month in Indian cities

    This also means, of course, that the enemy fully understands India’s predictable haplessness. Why should it not keep escalating its provocations higher? Afterall, nothing short of a sneaky nuclear attack will stir Indians into action. Also, why shouldn’t bullies like Miliband hector our leaders when they fully understand that engagement with Delhi is largely about posturing

    The right course is for India to violently shake up the cost-benefit paradigm — that, instead of us, our enemies and our past imperial masters be forced to think of what they would lose by provoking India versus what they might gain. A little bit of unpredictability would go a long way in this

    Is there cost to unpredictability and war? Yes, but there’s cost to “responsibility” and “restraint” as well. Humiliation at the hands of the like of Miliband is just a start

    As the poet Dinkar once wrote:

    Kshama shobhti us bhujang ko, jiske paas garal ho
    uska kya jo dant-heen, vish-rahit, vinnet, saral ho

    Best regards

  18. It seems this person is romantic and has no sense of real diplomacy, UK hardly has any power, its PM is foreign minister of US. Mr Miliband would have to leave if he continues with his speeches.

  19. Primary Red

    Instead of waging war as was warranted, New Delhi has seen fit to adopt a “calibrated” response based on an astonishingly naive belief in diplomacy. Unfortunately, it has been egged-on in this misadventure by “realist” commentators such as even this ordinarily reasonable blog

    That is an inaccurate characterisation of this blog’s position. Yes, this blog advocates diplomacy, but hardly the kind of “see you in court!” kind of routine that the UPA government has been engaging in. See my post on proof and credibility, for instance.

    I continue to believe escalating a military conflict along the India-Pakistan border or LoC is self-defeating. But that does not mean I do not advocate military action. But I certainly do not advocate a loud public discussion on military options in the media. We have strongly advocated sending troops to Afghanistan, and this was even before the latest Mumbai attacks.

    Your criticism should rightly be directed against the UPA government—which has failed to adhere to the Realist prescription.

  20. Good post Nitin!

    David Miliband deserves Gandhigiri – send him a few thousands “Get well soon” card!!

  21. Seems to me India is afflicted seriously with the ‘Hanuman syndrome’.

    Legend has it that Shri Hanuman,polite to a fault, never quite grasped his own power, and had to be told (by a trusted Jambavant) that leaping over the sea to Lanka was nothing for him. Twas only then that the inevitable happened.

    India similarly, has forgotten – inadvertantly or otherwise – the memory of what wrath, the sweet taste of just and karmic retribution. Still waiting for kaliyug ka Jambavant.

    Or maybe it is the ‘Arjuna syndrome’ – when despite knowing his own prowess or ‘ability’, Arjuna lacked the ‘will’ to fight. Thank G_d for that coz Shri Krishna then revealed to him and to us souls later on the Bhagwat Gita. Arjuna was finally persuaded only when Krishna showed him the Vishwa Roopa – the source code of the universe.

    And here we are, with Dilli still waiting for events to force our hand and only then to display the big one – the 3-stage TN weapon.

    Oh, maybe am too much of a romantic too, like Ramdhari sinh Dinkar. Had read his poetry long back in my Hindi NCERT textbooks….wow. Memory lane.

  22. >>Moreover, it has no sympathy for those who try to cloak themselves in neutrality, albeit under the pretense of being dispassionate, on such issues.

    Excellent point, Nitin.

    Zia Ul Haq’s gameplan was to bleed India with a thousand cuts. He reckoned that a section of Indians will emerge that will use that very bleeding as an excuse to demand that their country succumb to Pakistan’s terms.

    Why do we shy away from identifying this fifth column — commie it maybe — as Zia’s foot-soldiers?

  23. Milband presumably being more privy to the POA of the incoming Obama regime does leaks out what’s coming…hmmmm I think we must oblige the Pakistani Army & facilitate their western border abandonment…

  24. Primary Red wrote:
    The right course is for India to violently shake up the cost-benefit paradigm…

    Excellent point! In certain lesser known games of strategy — not the garden variety “Prisoners’ Dilemma” into which every conflict is force-cast to espouse the pre-determined strategy of cooperation — the rational strategy is irrational!

    It goes beyond describing such as a strategy as unpredictable. “Surprise” is not as uncommon as a “bone-headed” strategy. In the recent Gazan conflict, Israel acted as if it’s stone-deaf, when faced with almost universal criticism. And then, only then, Hamas agrees to a truce, pretty much on Israel’s conditions!

  25. India is losing the war in media. The entire world media is projecting the crisis from the vantage point of Pakistan. Indian reaction has been so far stupid and irresponsible, because India can very much win this war.

    India has a very strong media wing and it can make its position known. It also has a large trade and economic power which matters.

    The media-war is important because most of the opinion that matters in USA, Canada, Australia, EU or UK : the nature of politics is democratic. The task of India is to convince these population in general and to garner support. This task has been very successfully accomplished by Israel.

    Diplomatic tools such as cooling down relations etc. should be deployed with totalitarian and military states. Not with states which are crucial to be won as friends.

  26. Vakibs,

    Don’t get too caught up by what the international media says. Oh sure, it can influence people around the world, but it can’t change hard realities. It can’t even change foreign policy positions of the concerned governments. Mr Miliband is saying what he is saying not because of the media, but because Britain has no choice but to hitch its wagon to US foreign policy. So he’s just proclaiming his loyalty. Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong or right about that. But because it comes at India’s expense, we should ensure that he doesn’t do that again.

  27. Nitin,

    The hard realities in Kashmir cannot be changed by what an idiot says. I agree that a statement such as Miliband’s should not be allowed to get away unquestioned.

    But the root of India’s problem is deeper, and we should get it fixed. If not now, we should accomplish that in at most another 5 years. The task is to revamp the image of India in the eyes of the world. When these countries go to elections, the politicians would better listen to what their people say.

  28. Vakibs,

    Well, projecting a good image is essential. But as I said, don’t get carried away by image consciousness. What matters is power.

  29. The media-war is important because most of the opinion that matters in USA, Canada, Australia, EU or UK : the nature of politics is democratic. The task of India is to convince these population in general and to garner support. This task has been very successfully accomplished by Israel.

    I disagree. The media have an agenda of their own and they take their governments cues more often than not on matters of foreign policy. Its not as if our being goody-goody will change anyone’s perception when they are determined not to change.

    Possession is 9/10ths law. What count in the ultimate analyses are capabilities, not intentions.

    Recall how the media tempo could be carefully calibrated by a Democratic US govt on the orange revolution for Myanmar and how quickly the buzz died when it became clear the regime won hands down? How likely is that to happen w/o active if silent govt coordination in the background?

    Similarly, if the democratic govts of the west have an interest in maintaining some semblence of an == between India and pakistan, their media will find ways to follow suit. Nothing surprising there.

    What worries me though is that our english media is borderline treasonous. CNN-IBN has US funding and is registered in the cayman islands. NDTVs fund sources too are suspect. These channels have an agenda. They aren’t neutral by any stretch of imagination.

  30. Sud,

    We should be under no pretensions that the world media will do the job for us. You are absolutely correct that these agencies tow the line of the respective country’s foreign policy. More than that, these agencies tow the line of the specific large business conglomerate that they are part of (time-warner group, newscorp etc) whose interests are sometimes larger than any individual country’s.

    What India should do is to take advantage of the world-wide-web and new models of broadcasting to present its own version of the events.

    In fact, several countries actively engage in this. Russia has “Russia Today”, the arab countries have “Al Jazeera” and China has “CCTV” all broadcasting free television programming in English in foreign countries.

    India has none to present its view.

    More than television programming, what matters today are active internet participation such as blogs and forums. India has no websites which invite comments and blogs from people all over the world to discuss the issues at hand (something like BBC “have your say” or Guardian’s “comment is free”)

    About specific loyalties / treason of Indian news channels, that hardly matters. Indian polity are very patriotic and are primarily glued to local language newspapers and TVs. The liberal English media will only add laurels to the democracy of press in India.

    What matters more is the attention that India is getting in the international media, and in what light India is portrayed.

    The fact of the matter is in today’s world, media is as much a weapon as ballistic missiles. Any sort of weaponry, as Nitin has acknowledged, reflects the “real power” of the nation which is primarily economic strength. India has a decent economic strength, but this is not at all reflected in the media entreprise.

    Unless this specific battlefield is recognized and sufficient attention is paid, we are badly in the danger of losing the war.

  31. Nitin,
    Good post, albeit with an overtone of nationalist sentiments, which in the present scheme of things, are perfectly justified.
    History has always been wrathfully unforgiving towards the ‘bad’, bountifully generous towards the ‘good’; but the real tragedy is the way history has treated the ‘ugly’. The tragedy of not being taken seriously.
    In the present contest of affairs,it’s worth pointing out that the US has consistently, selfishly, taken a stand against terrorism, inspite of human rights, the economic loss associated with the waging of a war, and the worldwide criticism. I am not justifying the American agression, merely pointing out that it hass been dauntingly been the ‘bad’. In chosing the diplomatic path, India has displayed indelible faith in international conscience, thus being ‘good’.
    My whole point here is, does Mr. Miliband, who essentially represents the british govt attitude prima facie, deserve our serious consideration?
    Does the rest of the world really perceive the british govt policy with due gravity? Emphatically not.
    1. They did join the proverbial “war on terrorism”, their soldiers were convicted of despicable war crimes at Abu Gharaib. They did join the war not on their own impetus to drive away terrorism, but merely to appease the US(the twing towers are more than a stone’s throw away from th Big Ben).
    2. They persistently hold conferences and meetings condemning the violence in Gaza. Now this is really confusing, because they never really talked about a solution for Hamas or any realy solution for a long term cease fire. We had verbose fillers for the news feeds that were mere light weight rhetorics. Probably Mr Brown felt featuring in national tv looking serious, and attending meetings would eyewash people into believing that they are serious and committed towards… ummm (what are they committed towards anyway???)
    3. Mr. Miliband’s comments only represent the confusion and lack of basic understanding of the british govt, and the conflicting, myopic,nervous and defensive policies they articulate to avert commitment.

    Like you’d treat the youngest kid in the group as children playing in the park, they are best overlooked. LEt’s punish them, for whatever it’s worth by our forgetfullness, we have our hands full right now, we cudnt spare enough for their nuisance.

    P.S.: The pronoun ‘they’ strictly refers to the present British govt. The British people, as wonderful they are, would always have my respect and admiration.

  32. Hey, I agree with your overt patriotism. Secondly, the Britons are idiots. And we do discriminate against our minorities. That is an obvious fact. But, Britain fails to realise that in modern India, minorities are blatantly more aggressive than the majority community.

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