Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No more ‘internal issues’

The vitriolic reaction in India to David Miliband’s comments in a recent Guardian article arguing that a political solution to the stalemate in Kashmir might be helpful in the fight against terrorism would suggest that the Foreign Secretary has touched a nerve. Some of the hysterical quotes in the Indian press accused Miliband of ‘appeasement of terrorism’ and playing ‘into the hands of those who are in denial and rationalise violent extremism by finding 'just' causes for it’, with a dig at ‘Whitehall's marginal status in international politics’ thrown in for good measure. Whether the Foreign Secretary’s intervention was wise or not given Britain’s colonial history in India remains to be seen; however what is immediately clear was that his analysis is broadly correct. To pretend that terrorism, particularly the traditional national state terrorism of territorial dispute and national identity focused on by Miliband’s article, can only be solved by military and paramilitary responses is the true exercise in denial.

India faces both a real and significant terrorist threat and a grave problem of Hindu nationalism which polarises relations with its own large Muslim minority and hampers efforts to find a solution to the challenges that have bedevilled Kashmir since partition. Similarly Pakistan’s decades long involvement with proxy organisations fighting for its ambitions in Kashmir that matched its behaviour towards groups in Afghanistan have helped make it the epicentre of the strategic crisis formerly known as the ‘war on terror’. Yet whatever can be said about the conflict in Kashmir is that its ripples have been felt well beyond the subcontinent, it is an internal issue that impacts from Srinagar to Salford.

The recent crisis in Gaza is a ready reminder that over many years we have seen similarly robust responses given by Israeli commentators to international discussion and criticism of its approach to Palestinian terrorism: ‘you don’t understand the situation’ and ‘this a fight for the security of our people’. Irrespective of rights and wrongs of the Israeli approach or the criticisms levelled against it, a decision taken in Jerusalem about how to deal with rockets from Gaza clearly impacts on security on the streets of London and of people across the world.

While anger and disaffection on the ground can be channelled locally into the mechanisms of nation state terrorism by any group of any faith with a grievance, we know that ‘internal issues’ across the world are banging the recruiting drum for transnational market state terrorism, as publically typified by Al-Qaeda and at present predominately amongst the Muslim community. It is clear that what happens in the hillsides of Kashmir and Helmand or the streets of Gaza and Baghdad does not only affect the combatants and those with the misfortune of living nearby, but that it can impact on us all. This is not to argue that conflicts across the globe cause terrorism in third countries but merely that it makes it easier for pre-existing networks to signup and mould already radicalised young men and sometimes women. The appropriate response combines the transformation of policing and military priorities of recent years and marries it to the political engagement and the common values articulated in Miliband’s article. There also must be a recognition from our own recent experience of terrorism at 7/7 that although the radicalisation of small sections of Britain’s Muslim youth began long before Afghanistan and Iraq, participation particularly in the latter has acted to widen the pool of young people receptive to co-option by extremists. This recognition must inform but not necessarily restrict our action at home or abroad, however it must ensure we redouble our efforts to find political solutions to challenges across the globe.

The Foreign Secretary has made an important attempt to remind people of the national roots of much of today’s terrorism and that this fact has been distorted by some of the rhetoric of the ‘War on Terror’, however we must resist the temptation flowing from this analysis towards parochial responses typified by the Indian media. David Miliband is right to raise the need to resolve the political disputes that encourage those on the ground to seek to resolve them through terrorism, however this not only for the sake of those directly involved but for us all. For while it is right to move beyond some of the language and methods of the War on Terror we must not forget that some of the terrorist threat across the world, particularly facing the West, is not drawn directly from nation state terrorism but that which feeds upon it and other conflict across the globe, from other countries ‘internal issues’.

1 comment:

Mike Archer said...

Very well put. There does need to be a seperation of state-centric terrorism and international terrorism. After all, the goals of Hamas, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and al-Qaeda are very different. Miliband's article suggests as much. However, I do find it somewhat pedantic and even condescending for the Foreign Secretary to suggest that, with seeming ease, the problems resulting from Kashmir can be resolved. For both sides, the emotional attatchment is still tender. I think they both understand that a resolution to the issue would be beneficial, but no such all-encompassing, fair solution exists. Perhaps the British media may have reacted with similar disdain had India's foreign secretary informed us that resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland in previous years would enhance regional security?