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.