It is a pleasure to begin this important and topical debate on Pakistani-based terrorism. Indeed, considering recent events, there is terrorism not only in Pakistan but in the United Kingdom, as well as in other recent attacks across the globe. Unfortunately, we can now see a common denominator in the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, and those in Madrid and Bali, not to mention the frequent insurgency operations in Afghanistan—the training camps based in the remote mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sadly, we must now add the dreadful assassination of Benazir Bhutto this Christmas, with 20 others, in Rawalpindi on
How did things come to this? Why, six years after the so-called global war on terror, do those camps still exist? What impact does Pakistani-based terrorism have in the UK? Finally, what are we, the Government and the nation, doing about it? Those are the questions that I pose today.
For clarity, I declare a personal interest—I think that the Minister is aware of it—in that I lost my brother in the explosion that took place in Bali on
It is worth reminding ourselves of the background in Pakistan. As countries go, it is a fascinating cocktail of people, religions, languages and customs. If one throws into that a serious boundary dispute with its neighbour, India, a security service—the ISI—that is a power unto itself, a military six times the size of ours, a nuclear arsenal, 70 political parties and the fact that for many years it was on the front line of the cold war, it is easy to see why governance has been such a challenge. Pakistan has 161 million people; it is the sixth most populous country in the world, and it has the second largest Muslim population.
Since independence from British India in 1947, Pakistan has been characterised by periods of instability and dispute. Civilian politics during the past few years have been tarnished by corruption and inefficiency. That has been compounded by alternating periods of civilian and military rule, which have not helped the country's stability or long-term prospects.
More recently, in October 1999, Pakistan came under military rule once again, when General Musharraf, as he was then, led a bloodless coup to oust the civilian Government. That was widely condemned not only by Britain; it led to Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth. Musharraf inherited many of the problems and challenges that have been besetting the country for years. The biggest problem is the increasing polarisation between Islamist militancy and the modernising secular wing of Pakistani politics.
The challenge is made all the greater given the mountainous area, 200 miles wide and 1,600 miles long, that contains the Durand line. That poorly marked Afghan-Pakistan border—named after Sir Mortimer Durand in the late 19th century by the Foreign Secretary of the British Indian Government—was a way of concluding what was called the great game—the conflict between the British and the Russian empires for supremacy in central Asia.
It is important to put things into context. Pakistan is four times the area of the UK, but I should point out the extent—or perhaps the limits—of Pakistani leaders' influence. State control over a sizeable section of the north-west is, I believe, tenuous, and there are many areas—for example, in Belucistan and Waziristan—that are completely autonomous, in which any rule or recognised authority is absent. Indeed, the North-West Frontier Province is known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. They are now the playground for terrorism, and no-go areas for official authorities. In those remote areas, it is easy to take full advantage of the absence of civilised rule with the dominance of tribal power.
Unfortunately, the fight continues six years on. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a potentially crippling blow to Pakistan's hopes of emerging in a state of stability. Placed in context, it is easy to see that such high tensions could bring Pakistan to the verge of imploding, unless action is taken. Certainly that is the case now.
However, the seeds of the terrorism were not sown during Musharraf's time but in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when religious institutions mushroomed under General Zia's rule. His idea was to encourage the funding of madrassas, religious seminaries, to create ideological nurseries to motivate people into joining the jihadis and the holy warriors to battle against the Soviets. Of course, once created, they could not be closed, particularly because of their location. That led to a multitude of religious scholars. Today, any radicalised youngster who wants to know more about his religion and who is still asking questions about 9/11 will turn to them. It is estimated that there are 13,000 madrassas in the north-west of Pakistan, and more than 1.7 million people have enrolled in them.
Part of the problem in Pakistan is that a pathetically small amount of the national budget is spent on education because so much of it is being spent on defence. With the Government school system collapsing, many parents in the North-West Frontier Province and other parts of the country have no opportunity but to send their children to a madrassa. Until Pakistan gets its basic education system sorted out, it will, sadly, be a country of increasing illiteracy.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Pakistan has a very nervous leader, who has chosen to invest in the military. Pakistan has 700,000 soldiers; that is seven times the size of the British Army. That is where the money is going, and it is denying the youth of the country the chance of a proper education. That is where the seeds of the future should be sown. My hon. Friend makes a good point.
If I may, I return to an earlier point about madrassas. General Musharraf said that he wants to bring about reform. I was in Pakistan last year, and I saw evidence of that. However, the reality is very different. The International Crisis Group said that the reform of the 13,000 madrassas—the number that my hon. Friend mentioned—is now a shambles. Notwithstanding the excellent point made on education, reforming madrassas will not cost money. However, it needs the will to do so, and that will needs to be enforced. That is where the weakness lies.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know that he takes a huge interest in the country and has spent a lot of time there. Where the money is going, and if it is going into education, how it is being spent, linking in the work of the madrassas, is critical. But at the end of the day, the Government's footprint of influence is limited, because of the mountainous region, which is very difficult to access, and because they have less influence from an authoritative perspective. It is very difficult for them to have an educational influence, let alone to get policemen up there.
On money and education, I believe that the UK Government have committed some £236 million, over the current three-year period, and £480 million, over the 2008-11 period, to Pakistan. Will the Minister give us an assurance that none of that money will be channelled into institutions or madrassas fostering terrorism?
I know that the Minister was listening to those comments, and I look forward to his response. It is important that we know how funds going from the UK to Pakistan are spent and that we do not simply hand over a cheque.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and Mr. Newmark. I can provide the assurance that they seek. On my visits to Pakistan, I ensure that I get out to those madrassas and to areas where the Department for International Development is working. There is no question but that it is a difficult situation. As a Minister, I could not begin to contemplate the idea that any money channelled via DFID, or any other Department, was helping to forment terrorism.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. We must understand that in the absence of influence in those madrassas, those scholars can extract their own interpretations of the Koran and coerce or indoctrinate those who then leave Pakistan and become terrorist bombers. We must prevent that from happening.
The terrorist training camp is the final step in completing the radicalisation of fundamentalists and in equipping them with the expertise to efficiently and violently kill themselves and others. According to the 9/11 commission on the terrorist attacks, as many as 20,000 people were trained in bin Laden-supported camps between May 1996 and
Luckily, we have some time today to debate this. Before the hon. Gentleman moves on from this subject, will he remind us of the way in which money coming into Pakistan from other countries has been a big problem in paying for the radical theology that he mentioned and of the efforts that General Musharraf and his Government have made to stem the easy flow of that money, certainly from middle-eastern countries, into those madrassas and training camps?
I encourage the Minister to intervene as often as he wishes, given that we have the time. It will make for a more thorough debate and will be very helpful.
Funding is critical. My entire speech is quite critical of the Pakistani Government. I do not wish to take away from the good work that they have tried to undertake, but more needs to be done. It is a difficult task; often, when General Musharraf outlaws a terrorist or religious organisation, they simply change their names, move to another location and start again, which is why he cannot combat the problem alone and requires the west's assistance to do so.
My hon. Friend looks impatient, but we have one and a half hours, so we have time for interventions. Some individuals and politicians in the United States agree that, notwithstanding what is happening in Pakistan, stability is extremely important. To take a case in point, last December, during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, a US Assistant Secretary of State reaffirmed the US Government's unambiguous commitment to maintaining economic and security assistance to Pakistan in spite of the recent turmoil, because Pakistan remains a lynchpin in combating terrorism and extremism. Is my hon. Friend convinced that the Government's policy on terrorism emanating from within Pakistan is sufficient to send a similarly robust message on our continuing commitment to a stable Pakistan?
I shall venture into that subject later, if my hon. Friend will be patient. There is a general concern, because the training camps remain and attacks continue—even in the UK, we have had the attack in Glasgow airport last June, as well as the thwarted attacks in London. They were very real and are still happening, so we need to work harder to ensure that we combat this problem. The current strategy is not working. Owing to the remote nature of the bases, President Musharraf cannot contain the problem, which is why support from the United States, Great Britain and the west in general is critical.
Some of the characters now linked with Pakistan include names with which we are familiar: Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, who, on
General Musharraf has begun initiatives, but not completed any actions. Last year, for example, he signed deals with the opposition in Waziristan. He went in with 250 soldiers to try and clean up an area, which was an honourable cause, but unfortunately, without a shot being fired, all 250 soldiers were captured. They were released only because Musharraf traded them for 30 militants whom he had locked-up. I come from a military background and I do not want to question the tactics used, but that suggests that the Government cannot contain the situation, that they do not have a strategy and that they simply do not have the ability to move forward responsibly in combating the problem.
The result has been a laissez-faire attitude on the part of President Musharraf, who appears to think, "Those things happen in the mountainous area, so let us sign deals with the various organisations and tribal units; you stay over there and we will stay over here." However, that allows those bases to be used by people to punch their way north into Kandahar and Lashkar Gar, and other such places, and to carry out attacks on our troops in Afghanistan. Furthermore, they are continuing their training and exporting their violence, as they have been doing for the past 10 to 15 years.
What is relevant is how that impacts on the UK, because sadly a number of the people whom I mentioned earlier are, or were, British citizens. This is home-grown terrorism, about which we were in denial until July 2005, when we suddenly realised that British-born citizens were willing to take their lives for the cause of fundamentalism. Those are the questions that I want to pose. I appreciate that the Minister is responsible for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I hope the Minister will understand—I beg for your patience, Mr. Cummings—that if we are to have a full debate on terrorism in Pakistan, we must include the way in which it impacts on the United Kingdom.
I now turn to the controversial part of my speech. On a recent visit to Iraq, I had the pleasure of meeting the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Barham Salih. He came to the UK recently, and visited the Lord Chancellor's constituency of Blackburn. When Dr. Salih and I discussed militant behaviour and how to combat terrorism, he told me:
"I am not surprised that you British are facing so many problems with extremists after what I saw in those mosques in Blackburn. What I saw...would not be allowed here in Iraq—it would be illegal."
That is a shocking indictment of what is going on in some mosques in the UK, and that is why the issue is controversial. Many Muslims in Britain want to live peacefully and happily under the British rule of law, but hearing that from another Muslim, who is a leader from a Muslim country, summed up the situation in the UK.
It was interesting to read a recent study by Denis MacEoin, called "The Hijacking of British Islam", which I recommend, because that specialist—a renowned authority on Islam—has examined some of the literature that is available in mosques throughout the country. He found that one quarter of it is either inflammatory or incites violence, and it is worrying that such material is available, but nothing is being done about it. The publications urge Muslims to segregate themselves from non-Muslims, and for unbelievers to be regarded as second class. Many of those publications come from Saudi Arabia, which is another angle that the Minister must pursue. Is enough being done in Saudi Arabia to prevent the export of such material?
Related to that issue are the comments by Jonathan Evans, the former MI5 chief, who said last year that in his assessment, 20,000 Muslim people in the UK posed a threat to national security. If you woke up early enough, Mr. Cummings, you will have heard on the "Today" programme, reports from the United States Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff.
I am not sure whether one can hear the "Today" programme in the Tea Room, but I am sure that John Humphrys will be pleased if that is the case.
Secretary Chertoff said that there is a
"real risk that Europe will become a platform for terrorists... The next September 11-style attack on America could be launched by Muslims from Britain or Europe who feel second-class citizens, alienated by a colonial legacy. The July 7 tube and bus bombs...had shown that Britain has a problem with its Muslim population that America did not share."
They are very powerful words, and I should be grateful to hear the Minister's response to them.
Another study, undertaken in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2007, which, as an ex-Army man, I am sure that my hon. Friend is a subscriber to, suggested that the security services were monitoring
"more than 20 plots, involving as many as 200 terrorist cells, and watching more than 1,500 people associated with them in the United Kingdom, most of whom— unfortunately— are of Pakistani origin."
I say "unfortunately", because most Pakistanis who live here are good citizens who behave. It is a small group of people, but nevertheless, they were of Pakistani origin, and it would be interesting to know, perhaps from the Minister, whether it is a realistic assessment, or whether the matter is better or worse. They are, none the less, serious numbers with which we should all be concerned.
The answer is that I do not know. However, they are worrying numbers, which the Minister must digest, and then, I hope, produce a strategy that allows us to better understand what is going in mosques in the UK. We must dare to challenge fundamentalism on our doorstep. It is not a random challenge purely against Islam—far from it; it is a recognition that extremist behaviour cannot go unchecked. There is a need for a better understanding of what is happening in the 1,350 mosques in the UK, and from the reports that my hon. Friend has read out, and from the study that took place, I do not believe that we do fully understand.
I have seen the amount of legislation that we pass in Parliament. We build barriers—even around this very building—to barricade ourselves in and protect ourselves from somebody who decides to put on a suicide jacket and blow themselves up, but we are not doing enough to get into the mindset of the individual to prevent them from going anywhere near that jacket in the first place.
This is a sensitive issue, and it was reflected by the nervousness of the police during the demonstrations against the cartoons drawn in Denmark in February 2006. There were demonstrations in this country outside the Danish embassy, and Members might remember the placards there, which said:
"Annihilate those who insult Islam", and:
"3/11 is on its way".
Not one arrest was made that day—not one single arrest. Of course, we must be sensitive in those situations; we absolutely do not want to inflame them. However, in any other environment, much more thorough action would have been taken. We have adopted a soft touch against militant Islam, which is why we are being taken advantage of by those terrorist organisations that now choose London and the UK as a secondary base for their operations. I do not mean their physical operations; I mean their studies, groupings, and most importantly, their recruitment. We do not see that situation in France, Germany or in Iraq; we should not see it in the UK. I appreciate that these are Home Office issues, but I should be glad if the Minister were able to say what extra steps are being taken.
I come now to what is happening in Pakistan, and how we move forward.
I shall try to be brief, thank you, Mr. Cummings.
Before my hon. Friend moves on to Pakistan, I am sure that he will agree that the punishment must fit the crime. He will agree that the recent conviction of Sohal Qureshi for terrorist offences is a step in the right direction, but does he not agree that, unfortunately, Qureshi's sentence of just four-and-a-half years, minus time served, hardly sends a strong signal that the Government are committed to severing the acknowledged link between terrorism in Pakistan and the UK?
Again, my hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is a very difficult line to draw. How far must the punishment go before it is seen to incite more violence and upset more communities? It is a sensitive issue, and I should acknowledge that the Government have taken initiatives. The Muslim Council of Great Britain was an initiative by the previous Prime Minister to try to link thoughts and views and provide a forum for Muslim expression and concerns. One challenge for the Muslim community is that it is so disparate. There are so many facets to the Muslim community, with people either coming from different geographical locations or following different parts or interpretations of the Koran, which is why the issue is difficult. There is no unified leader, no Papal figure, whom one can turn to in order to condemn or condone actions. It is difficult to find a unifying voice, and it is therefore even easier for the corrupt message to get through and go unchallenged.
President Musharraf was prompted by US comments—I think they were from special advisers to the US President—that more needed to be done militarily to assist Pakistan in combating terrorism. Unfortunately, the reply did not suggest that President Musharraf had fully grasped the gravity of the situation. He replied:
"Nobody will come here until we ask them...and we haven't asked them. Certainly, if they come without our permission, that's against the sovereignty of Pakistan...There is a perception in the United States as if what our army cannot do, they can do...This is a very wrong perception. I challenge anyone coming into our mountains. They would regret that day."
I am afraid that that is the kind of language that we hear from other dictators and leaders playing to a local audience to try to ensure that they stay in power, rallying anger from outside to ensure that they have support inside. It shows somebody who simply does not recognise what is going on under his nose. America will never wander into Pakistan—that is not what was being suggested. It was an offer, saying "Let's work together". There must be a more cognitive solution than there is now.
There is not time to pay tribute to all the good work that has been done, and although scores of al-Qaeda operatives have been arrested in Pakistan, the threat continues, and Benazir Bhutto's assassination suggests that more needs to be done. Our concerns about Pakistan lie in the mountains, but the battle for hearts and minds is here in London, Leicester, Bradford and every town and city. We want to encourage the freedom of religious beliefs, where that religion is harmonised with British society, not hijacked to fight it.
I hope that my speech is not taken out of context and that nobody removes a section of it and uses it to say that I somehow deplore Islam or have a gripe or anger against Pakistan. That is absolutely not the case, and that is exactly what the people who corrupt the Koran in order to recruit are doing. I hope that it is not copied by others. I have a love for Pakistan and Afghanistan. I have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan in the past two years to try to understand it, and if I am trying to prevent westernisation anywhere—it is unhelpful in a country getting off its knees—it is in Afghanistan. Understanding local issues such as tribal influences, customs and history is fundamental to moving forward, as globalisation tends to threaten the old cultures as east and west clash in a world of ever-decreasing size.
I am sure that we all want progress that swiftly brings peaceful elections, but Pakistan must put up its hand and acknowledge that it needs international support to rid itself of al-Qaeda's influence. We must put up our hand and say that home-grown terrorism is real and that more can be done to engage with our Muslim community to ensure that the well-trodden path of extremism between Britain and Pakistan is finally closed.
My hon. Friend Mr. Ellwood has more reason than most of us to be concerned about the impact of senseless terrorism. My comments may carry a slightly different nuance from his. There are three words for Pakistan to consider: democracy, democracy and democracy. Tragically, 60 years after partition, India and Pakistan could not be further apart. India is a vibrant democracy and will be a middle-income country by about 2015, having raised millions of people out of poverty. It should never be forgotten that there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. On the other side of the border, Pakistan is a faltering state, to employ the Foreign Office's new terminology—it is something approaching a failing state, I think. It has effectively been a military dictatorship for a number of years.
I was impressed by the Secretary of State's new year message advocating a return to democracy in countries such as Pakistan and Kenya. Bronwyn Maddox, whom we all know from reading The Times, put it well a little while ago in an article, asking,
"is the pursuit of democracy compatible with stability? For eight years President Musharraf said no, justifying his status as military leader by his claim to deliver stability and help in pursuing terrorists. For most of the eight years the US bought that answer; Britain was more equivocal.
It did not take the assassination of Benazir Bhutto two weeks ago to shatter that case. The pressure put on Musharraf by the US and Britain to let her return in October signalled frustration with him. It has been clear for years that the military was a cause of serious unrest, not the solution—appropriating land and large commercial interests, and inflaming tensions between the provinces and different ethnic groups."
Rageh Omaar, whom many of us have seen on television, commented:
"Pakistan is facing a twin crisis.
The first is the fact that Pakistanis are fighting Pakistanis, due to the country's integral involvement in the "war on terror"; a campaign whose military successes are, many feel, far outweighed by its social and political failures towards people in the region.
The second is that Pakistan has still not found an alternative to military governments."
Of course, it is difficult to find an alternative to military Governments when there is a military dictatorship, not democracy.
Many of us in the House counted Benazir as a friend, and—I declare an interest—my chambers represented her for a while in legal proceedings. She moved between London and Dubai for all those years. Which of us can name any other democrats who have been able to rise up the Pakistani political system? Which of us can name more than a couple of leading members of the Pakistan Peoples Party? Of course, such people would not come forward while there was a system in which democrats were undermined and the military prevailed.
It got slightly worse than that, because there was always an incentive for the military to justify itself either in the campaigns in Kashmir or by defining Pakistan as what it was not—namely, India. If the military created enemies, it could justify its existence. William Dalrymple put it this way:
"The most pressing crisis now facing Pakistan comes in the shape of the country's many armed and dangerous jihadi groups. For 25 years the military and Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have been the paymasters of myriad mujaheddin groups intended for deployment first in Afghanistan and then Kashmir. While the military may have once believed that it could use jihadis for its own ends, the Islamists have followed their own agendas and have now brought their struggle onto Pakistani streets and into the heart of the country's politics."
I do not think that anyone who has been involved in foreign policy in the past 20 years will be unaware of the many times we have received representations from the Indian Government about armed groups from Pakistan being sent into Kashmir and elsewhere for Pakistan's own purposes. That monster has now turned on Pakistan. The only way in which we will make long-term progress in Pakistan is through a fundamental, resolute and complete return to democracy. We have tried the ends justifying the means for a decade now, and it has not worked.
I accept that other hon. Members will fundamentally disagree with my next point. I do not believe that the international community and the Government of Pakistan will win over the people of the North-West Frontier Province and tribal areas by creating the impression that those people are the enemies of civilisation. I was introduced to the North-West Frontier Province in maths lessons at the age of 11. My maths master was Brigadier Picton, whose great-grandfather had commanded the artillery at Waterloo, and Picton himself had commanded a brigade on the north-west frontier. He brought trigonometry very much to life for me by using fire plans for tribal villages, which, I suspect, were somewhere near Peshawar.
I was also taught that the British empire, at the height of its strength, had not succeeded in bringing the north-west frontier province under its control. Indeed, as hon. Members know, all that we sought to do during the whole time that we occupied India, which then included Pakistan, was to keep the road from Peshawar, through Landi Kotal and on to Kandahar, open, and we were helped in that operation by the Khyber Rifles. When one makes that journey, as I am sure that the Minister and many other hon. Members have done, one sees the signs listing the regiments that have sought to keep the road and the railway line open. To be honest, the tribal regions have managed extremely well on that basis.
Of course, I appreciate that the arrival of Taliban elements and training camps has introduced a new dimension, but giving the impression that the whole region has somehow been taken over by the Taliban and other terrorists does not help. What Pakistan needs is a war on poverty, because as India progresses, Pakistan is going backwards. Rates of illiteracy are also increasing, which means that we have the most terrifying of all faltering states—an increasingly illiterate nuclear power.
My plea this afternoon is very simple. We should do everything that we can through Parliament, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other means to promote democracy in Pakistan. If things get difficult in Pakistan, we should not suggest to Musharraf that the army is the only body that can sort things out or that we will continue to give it support, comfort, succour and funding. The United States has pursued that practice over the past 20 years, while we have rather been sitting on our hands, but it has failed. We now need robust democracy, the rule of law and the encouragement of an independent judiciary and an independent media—the sorts of practice that other parts of the region take as the norm. Only in that way will we defeat terrorism in the longer term.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East made some perfectly good points regarding concerns about terrorism in the UK. However, we all need to reflect on the fact that some of the suicide bombers in the UK were born and brought up here—it is not simply a matter of terrorism being imported from overseas. Those who perpetrated the 9/11 atrocities were middle-class and, in particular, affluent young Saudis, so this is not just a matter of poverty. I have a not insignificant Kashmiri community in my constituency. When I visit the mosque or talk to members of that community, I find, as I am sure that other colleagues do, that they are as horrified by the practices that we are discussing as anyone else; they want a peaceful life and to bring up their children here. They also want people in the areas of Pakistan from which their fathers and grandfathers came to have a peaceful life. The issues before us are therefore quite complex.
We will not make progress in Pakistan, however, until the rule of democracy starts to prevail and we see democrats with whom we can interact and engage a dialogue, and whom we can encourage. The longer Pakistan remains a military state under the rule of the army, and the longer it is effectively controlled by the army, the ISI and other groups, the more difficult it will be to resolve the issues to which my hon. Friend has rightly drawn our attention.
I congratulate Mr. Ellwood on securing this timely debate. He opened it in a thorough and well-informed way and he obviously has some experience of the issues. Not only does he come from a military background, but he has had personal experience of tragedy, given that terrorism has touched the lives of his family, which is particularly poignant and a sober reminder to us all of the gravity of the issue.
We are at a critical point in the history of Pakistan, and events are unfolding quickly. Not long ago, there was talk of the political end game being in sight in the form of a possible power-sharing deal between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf. Now, sadly, we are looking to the future with greater uncertainty. In just the past four months, we have seen the return from exile of Ms Bhutto, the imposing and then lifting of a state of emergency, the swearing-in of Mr. Musharraf as a civilian President, the seismic events around Ms Bhutto's assassination and the postponement of the parliamentary elections until February. Today's debate is therefore taking place on shifting ground, and things will remain turbulent for some time to come. Nevertheless, we must continue to discuss and scrutinise Government policy as we pursue the goal of a democratic and stable Pakistan.
I want to pick up various issues. One is the importance of holding free and fair elections in Pakistan next month. Another is the investigation that is taking place into the death of Benazir Bhutto. I also want to discuss development aid and the training of terrorists in Pakistan, some of whom may be UK citizens, as well as longer-term issues, such as development and good governance.
I am sure that all hon. Members were horrified to hear the news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on
There is clearly uncertainty about the facts of Ms Bhutto's death. One report says that there was a suicide bomber, while another says that there was a gunman, and we even had the strange story about the sunroof. That uncertainty is obviously causing huge concern in Pakistan at this politically sensitive time, and there is suspicion about whether the facts are being covered up. Understandably, Ms Bhutto's husband requested that there should be no post-mortem, but that has not helped the situation, and the hosing-down of the scene just an hour and a half after the attack has certainly not helped to allay suspicions. It is therefore welcome that a team from Scotland Yard is in Pakistan to assist with the investigation. Given the sensitivity of the issue and the need to get the facts straight, however, it is not only the quality of the investigation that is important, although the Scotland Yard detectives will certainly be invaluable in that respect, but also the perception of the investigation; it must be seen to be independent. There are wide calls for a UN investigation into the death of Benazir Bhutto, which would help to give that perception of independence and to give the people of Pakistan some confidence that the real causes will be investigated and not covered up. There is a precedent in the investigation into the death of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon in 2004. I shall be interested to know whether the Minister will indicate Government support for such a UN investigation, and whether we might press for it internationally.
Tony Baldry highlighted the importance of "democracy, democracy and democracy" and obviously the most important and pressing issue for the UK is to do everything possible to ensure that the elections next month are free and fair. The short delay in holding the elections is welcome and inevitable. If such events took place in the UK shortly before a general election was scheduled, there would no doubt be a similar delay. Such a postponement is certainly fair enough in a democracy. We can still hope for stable parliamentary elections, which could result in a peaceful and fair result, and a step forward for the country, but the EU monitoring mission will be crucial in ensuring that the elections are conducted properly.
Musharraf's suspension and firing of key judges was clearly a great blow to the country's institutions. Because the judiciary has been put in place by Musharraf, it will be a struggle to see the elections as free and fair. I hope that the Government will push Musharraf to reinstate the members of the judiciary who were suspended or fired, so that the rest of the country can be confident that an independent judiciary will be scrutinising the parliamentary elections. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what representations the Government made in November when Musharraf decided to suspend or fire judges, which was clearly a bad omen of what was to come.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East spoke well about training camps, which are indeed a real problem in the country, but he was also right to talk about tackling the problem at home. Indeed, he said that, until 2005, we were in denial about the fact that there were British citizens, born, bred and educated in the UK, and immersed in our society, who could do such unspeakable and horrific things. That is something the country needs to grapple with; we need programmes and initiatives to reach out to people who may be disaffected and vulnerable to the types of extremist rhetoric that can lead people down that path.
We need to look, from an intelligence point of view, at the traffic of people between Britain and Pakistan. Obviously, hundreds of thousands of British citizens of Pakistani origin live in the UK, and as a result many—415,000, I think—go back to Pakistan each year. Only a small minority of them will be lured into the training camps, but it is necessary for the intelligence services to focus on that small minority, so that procedures can be established to halt anything that they may plan.
Mr. Newmark pointed out that the people concerned are a small minority and that there is great anger in the Muslim community—that is certainly so in my constituency, and in others too. There is a feeling that the peaceful religion of Islam is being hijacked by people of extreme political views, spouting a version that bears no resemblance to the religion peacefully followed by Muslims in Britain.
There are a variety of Government initiatives, including, in the past, 10-point plans, to tackle home-grown terrorism. Changing the mindset of British citizens who do not feel loyalty to our country's values must be a priority. I hope that the Minister can report back on the success so far of the initiatives and on the lessons learned about what does not work, and what will be changed as a result.
To turn to the question of what can be done in Pakistan, the hon. Member for Banbury was right to focus on poverty and deprivation. We know that both are great breeding grounds for terrorism, and the hon. Gentleman clearly has great knowledge of the country. That is certainly a key to getting to grips with the issue. Pakistan has been a key ally in the war on terror, but the development support that we give is crucial to success. The human development of Pakistan is a long-term policy for making the world a safer place: improving education and reducing poverty will also reduce extremism and even, we hope, stabilise the North-West Frontier Province, where there is the most intense problem with terrorism and al-Qaeda. Of course, reducing conflict and instability there will have a knock-on effect on stability in Afghanistan, where we also have a particular interest, given the presence of our troops. Education must be the cornerstone of the work, especially in stopping people going to madrassahs. I should be interested to know whether the Government have any plans to assist with the expansion of state education in Pakistan, which is not available in many parts of the country. Obviously, when there is no state education, there is a void into which others, who may want to indoctrinate young people, can step.
It is obviously important that Pakistan should have strong political and legal institutions. Those have certainly been undermined by the Musharraf regime; corruption is rife and, as we have said, members of the judiciary have been suspended. I should be interested to know what the Government are doing to build up those institutions, to help democracy gain a foothold in Pakistan. Free and fair elections will produce stable government only with the back-up of solid institutions, particularly in the longer term. Similarly, there is a need for links with political parties, civil society and even the military, to create the political leverage to get people round a table, working together.
I should like to know how critical the Government may have been, in private, of Musharraf. Sometimes they have been seen not to be as critical as one might like, particularly in cases such as the suspension of members of the judiciary. Although Pakistan has been an ally in the so-called war on terror, if that comes at the expense of our ability strongly to condemn actions likely to destabilise the country, the result will be only to fan the flames of terrorism, which is contrary to the objective.
I have one further concern to flag up with the Minister. News reports of the US response to the situation in Pakistan suggested that CIA activity on the borders has been intensifying, possibly with a view to unilateral US action there. I hope that the Minister will be firm in condemning any such suggestion of unilateral action. We need to learn from previous mistakes in foreign policy and to act as a coherent international community through proper international institutions. I hope that the UK will strongly counsel the US against any such action and will in no circumstances support it.
In conclusion, there is clearly a volatile and dangerous situation in Pakistan. Given the links to terrorist training camps and organisations in that country, there could be an impact on security in the UK and globally. Free and fair elections are vital to unlocking the problem, and for the sake of the confidence of people in Pakistan the death of Benazir Bhutto must be properly investigated; I argue for a UN investigation. Here at home, the UK must intensify action to prevent home-grown terrorism; and abroad it must consider development aid and support for Pakistani democratic, judicial and educational institutions. Perhaps we shall be able to look forward in hope to peaceful elections on
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Ellwood on securing the debate. Obviously, he has a tragic personal interest in the matter, but he has travelled widely in the area and speaks with a great deal of authority on it. May I also confirm that you, Mr. Cummings, are an early riser and a member of the parliamentary breakfast club, which is the most influential parliamentary organisation after the Whips and in which reputations are made and frequently destroyed?
The subject of the debate is absolutely crucial and serious. We should first consider it in terms of the narrow aspects of Pakistani politics—on which my hon. Friend Tony Baldry and Jo Swinson focused—and our desire to move Pakistan towards democracy and, at least, a civilian Government. However, that alone will not necessarily be the answer, and it will not be the kind of pure democracy that we associate with the United States, ourselves and the European Union, but it will be a step in the right direction.
Secondly, what happens in Pakistan has an immediate knock-on effect on what happens in Afghanistan, where we have a substantial military commitment and members of our armed forces are, sadly, dying—perhaps even as we speak. It also has a blowback effect in the UK and Europe. I take the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East made about the interview with the head of the US Department of Homeland Security yesterday, in which he said that the major terrorist threat now facing the US comes from Europe. He added, in parenthesis, that the threat was not home-grown, in the sense of being traditional, but was deeply connected with the middle east and elsewhere.
The first thing that we must do is establish the extent of the terrorist threat. In the past, we have failed to recognise its extent, not only in the numbers of young men and women who are prepared to commit suicide to further their religious, personal and political beliefs, but in the kind of widespread support organisations that are available. That is challenging in a way that we have never seen before. Much of that support is based in Pakistan, and we must remember that much of the threat is aimed not just at the UK and so-called western interests, but at hundreds of members of the Pakistani security forces and the Pakistani political elite—for example, the recent tragic killing of Benazir Bhutto—as well as ordinary members of the Pakistan public who get in the way of extremists. We should recognise that it is not an either/or issue.
The next matter to address, given the extent of the terrorist threat, is how we should deal with it. The previous and current Prime Ministers and my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron have recognised that this matter will go on, possibly for decades, and it will be a question of using every weapon at our disposal. When I say "weapon," I am talking in the true, old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist sense to include political, economic, social, military and police weapons.
In these kinds of debate, we often fail to recognise that the United Kingdom is not trying to deal with the threat on its own. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury reminisced about his childhood, when the British empire was at its height. I was a sad person this summer, because I reverted to my real profession of military historian and re-read a number of very good studies of previous conflicts on the Pakistan north-west frontier. Four years ago, an Australian wrote a very good book about the Waziristan campaign in 1937-38. The circumstances of that campaign were entirely different to those that we face at present, but we declared victory at the end of 1938 when it was really a score draw, as we were unable to impose our direct will on the area and we ended up by compromising.
That brings me to the main thrust of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East about what we need to do in Pakistan. Any demonstrable attempt by the US or by the UK and our NATO allies that gives the impression to the Pakistani military—or, indeed, to public opinion or the democratic parties there—that we wish to be seen visibly to take over large parts of Pakistani security policy and to deploy even only elements of obviously uniformed military force in the country will be utterly counter-productive. Of course, I do not suggest that my hon. Friend was proposing that.
We need to think far more in terms of the lengthy discussions that our military commanders and political advisers have been having in Afghanistan with President Karzai and his Government. I know that the Government have been working hard on that. We must attempt to persuade the Pakistanis to do things that are not only in their national interests but in our interests, too, which is not easy. The Pakistani armed forces are the key; it is no good pretending that we can ignore them. I see one possible opportunity in the next few months that might help with the move back to democracy—the role of the new chief of the general staff in Pakistan, General Kiyani. He has tremendous experience of the west and is more in the tradition of a military professional. I think that he recognises that the Pakistani army has to get out of politics, not only because he has seen the damage that has been done, but because he believes the Pakistani armed forces have been humiliated by what has happened on the north-west frontier.
The crucial question for Ministers is what action can the British Government take to give political military assistance to the Pakistani authorities—both the political Government and the military and security services—to be most effective against terrorism. The Minister must also consider the wider national security problem of coping with the blowback from terrorism in the UK. That is not just about the home-grown, mainly young, British born and bred people who are prepared to be involved in terrorism, but about the kind of moral, cultural and political support they receive, largely, but not exclusively, from Pakistan. There are no quick fixes, but we must, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East said, consider far more seriously the latitude that we have given, for example, to some of the Islamic extremists who operate in this country. Indeed, the way in which they behave and operate is the despair of many British Muslims.
My final point is that it is wrong for us to believe that we are fighting a uniform, global terrorist organisation. We are not. We are fighting a multi-faced group of organisations and individuals who coalesce, often because it is to their advantage. However, they have their weaknesses, too, and we must be much more political and subtle in dealing with the problem. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the subject. Although there has been only a limited number of speakers, we have had an informed debate and I look forward, as always, to the Minister's reply.
I, too, congratulate Mr. Ellwood on securing this important debate. May I also join Mr. Simpson in wishing that there had been more contributions to the debate? I was surprised by the low turnout, given the centrality of these issues to contemporary politics, as hon. Members have reminded us. I will certainly try in the time that is left to address at least some of the questions that have been raised.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East is right to raise this serious problem. In 2007, we calculated that there were some 60 suicide bombings, and it is estimated that 770 people were killed and 1,600 injured by terrorist attacks in that year alone in Pakistan. That is an appalling figure by any reckoning, and given that there were only 15 attacks in the previous four years, the extent of the problem becomes obvious: it is a very urgent one and it is increasing. As the number of shootings and suicide bombing increases, so too does the terrorists' capability, as can be seen, for example, in the double suicide bombings in September and November 2007 against intelligence and military targets in Rawalpindi, which is home to the army headquarters. The town was always regarded as the most secure place in Pakistan, but it was in Rawalpindi, despite the security measures available, that Benazir Bhutto was killed on
There is no sign of an early solution. Last Thursday, a suicide bomb in Lahore killed more than 20 policemen, just a day after the Pakistani Government finalised security arrangements in an attempt to combat sectarian violence between Shi'as and Sunnis during the holy month of Muharram. On Monday, at least nine people were killed in a bomb attack in Karachi. The city constitutes one of the most dangerous postings for Foreign Office consular staff, and it is a very difficult environment in which to operate.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, as we have heard, was a senseless attack and a tragedy, both personally and politically. Mrs. Bhutto's undoubted commitment to democracy in Pakistan and her sense of duty towards its people led her to take the risk of returning to the country to campaign for election. The attack on her was an attack on all those committed to democracy in Pakistan, but people who share her commitment will, I am sure, be strengthened in their resolve to fight for a safe, peaceful and democratic Pakistan.
I want to pay tribute to the characteristically thoughtful and insightful contribution of Tony Baldry. I was particularly struck by the point that he made about how difficult it is to recognise the nature of the democratic system in Pakistan. I kept trying to think of the right phrase, but it is certainly something to do with the cult of the individual within the parties. He was particularly insightful in reminding us that the election or appointment of a new leader is almost a dynastic passage. It had not struck me before, but it did so forcibly when the hon. Gentleman said it, that the lack of a well-known top echelon of politicians in Pakistan makes the situation difficult, and often leads to people calling on those who have left in the diaspora to come back. One thinks of a talented Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, who was brought back from America, I believe, with considerable experience in the banking industry. He began to address the problems that the hon. Member for Banbury highlighted of deficiencies in the economic life of Pakistan and the fact that it compared poorly with India. There have been great successes in Pakistan to which we should pay tribute, and I know that the hon. Gentleman would want us to do so. However, his observation on the nature of politics in Pakistan is something that we should remember.
We may have a full generation—thirty years—of Bushes and Clintons running the United States, so dynastic contributions to political life do not exist just in Pakistan.
I could not possibly comment on that.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East reminded us of the way in which General Zia Islamised—I hope that that is not a crude way of putting it—many of Pakistan's institutions. I have seen that myself. Whether one is up in Waziristan, in the North-West Frontier Province in general, or even in Baluchistan, one hears complaints, especially from the officer class, that the politicisation of the most effective and coherent institution in Pakistan—the army—has been to its detriment. There has been a belief around for a long time now—
We have heard a good deal about the read-across from Pakistan to Britain, and the Prevent programme that we put in place to try to combat radicalism has been mentioned. I do not think that radicalism is a very good word for the problem. I am talking about the hatred preached by a number of people, some of whom have been identified in this country. The issue was rightly highlighted by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and other hon. Members.
Sir Jonathan Evans, who is the head of MI5—at least he was when I walked into this room—spoke about the matter in Manchester last November. He talked about the great difficulty of trying to monitor everything that goes on as a consequence of the activities of those propagandists. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East compared what happens in mosques in Britain with what happens elsewhere. I think that he mentioned Dr. Barham Salih whose opinion I value very much. He is British-educated, and he knows a great deal about how the relationship between state, religion and freedom of expression works because he is also a Kurd.
The matter that we are discussing should be of concern to us. I have heard that there is not a lesson read in Friday prayers in Turkey or in Egypt that has not been passed either by the Grand Mufti or by the head of the religion. Without question, we need to strike a balance between our prime responsibility, which is to safeguard the ordinary citizens of this country as they go about their daily business, and, at the same time, efforts to respect and strengthen civil liberties and ensure that freedom of speech and publication continues.
I, too, found some of the reports shocking, especially regarding the kind of literature that can be found on sale in shops that are sometimes attached to mosques and Islamic centres. I know that there are many people from the Islamic community who find it shocking and distasteful that such literature is on sale. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East could have added to that literature the appalling filth that appears on some internet sites, including repulsive images of westerners being executed and of people being tortured. Those images are often accompanied by criminal texts and speeches that try to persuade people that what, in fact, is a perversion of the Koran is the real jihad. That is something that we certainly have to fight.
I am pleased that the Minister has touched on issues that go to the very heart of the challenges that we face. On the issue of the internet, I still do not understand why we cannot monitor and control information that appears on websites. If we can control books and publications, we can do the same with the internet, as there is a standard for doing so. It can all be done through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. We have seen such monitoring in operation in other countries, and perhaps it is time to stop such internet sites from being available in the UK.
The more important point is the comments that were made by Dr. Barham Salih. It is shocking to hear an Iraqi, who went to a mosque in Blackburn, saying that that some of its practices should be outlawed. I appreciate that that is not in the Minister's portfolio, but is it not time that we took a much tougher approach to what is happening in the 1,300 mosques that we have in the UK? It is only a matter of time before the incubation—
There is every case for being much more vigilant about what is going on in some mosques. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he does not need reminding—that the vast majority of Muslims in this country have no truck with that kind of behaviour and dialogue. I have met imams and mullahs in Bradford and other cities who resent the way in which their messages and lessons have become demonised by the activities of a relatively small number of imams in British mosques. That is worth repeating time and again. It would be very difficult for any Government to forbid a preacher, whether Islamic or Baptist, from saying certain things at certain times. However, there are standards that we believe should be met and kept.
May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that all our intelligence services, as well as the Government and the police force, are very much aware of the potential for disaster if such practices went unchallenged. They are being challenged all along the line at every turn. The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk is a military historian. As a friend of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, he can tell him that one does not need a constituency to be able to conduct terrorist activities. Jonathan Evans told us that there are probably about 2,000 would-be activists in the country, and about 20,000 who sympathise with them and are prepared to shield them. There are towns in Northern Ireland, for example, in which we tried to combat terrorism for 30 years. Relatively small numbers of people shielded the terrorists—it was the silence and inactivity of their supporters that allowed terrorism to take place.
The Minister is very generous in accepting interventions, and I am grateful to him. I am concerned about the fact that such people go unchallenged and that Britain has become an attractive base for the consolidation of ideas. Does the Minister not agree that there is an urgent need to adopt a more robust attitude, as has been done in other countries?
We are challenging those ideas and paying an enormous amount of attention to the problem. We have hugely increased the expenditure and resources available to our intelligence services over the past five years. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise the issue: the 7/7 bombings in 2005 were a wake-up call for everyone, but they should not have come as a shock. As he said, we should have picked up those messages earlier. We were picking them up earlier, but doing something about them means challenging our own culture as well. We are a very open country.
London is sometimes been ridiculed as "Londonistan", which can be viewed as an accurate description of the way in which we have allowed many groups, including some that are outlawed in their own country, to operate here. That has been the nature of this democracy of ours for a very long time. It is a great shame that the terrorism that we have suffered is sometimes been the consequence of that openness and willingness to welcome people.
When I was in Waziristan, I met a colonel from the frontier corps who told me about a battle with some al-Qaeda/Taliban groups. They are a mixed bunch in Waziristan, and some people will shoot at someone simply because they do not know them and they are an outsider. As I have told the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk before, the colonel told me that his people suffered heavy losses, but when they looked at the bodies of those whom they had killed in the battle, they found that the military commander was Chechen, the armourer and fixer was Uzbek, the moneybags was Saudi and the foot soldiers were mainly Pashtuns from the various tribes in the area. That was how they operated. They had to live off the land. The money and sometimes the guns that they received came from as far away as Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are very much aware of that, which is why we have to maintain good relations with them when it comes to trying to co-ordinate action in Pakistan, which is subject to the attentions of some very unsavoury people. The people involved are not just Pakistanis and expatriate Brits; they are from all over the place. It is a very difficult issue.
Let me address some of the other issues that were raised. The hon. Member for Banbury, quite properly, opened up the subject of the need for education and the tiny amount—I think that it is less than 2 per cent. of gross domestic product—that is spent on education in Pakistan. I have visited madrassahs across Pakistan—and I have been taken to the best of the madrassahs—where I was shocked. Most shocking of all is the fact that many people in Pakistan do understand that they live in an increasingly competitive world, that they have to compete with, among others, India, their next-door neighbour, and that if they cannot raise skill levels in Pakistan, the problem will become worse.
The hon. Gentleman identified the issue very sharply. I wrote down what he said: "Pakistan needs a war on poverty because it constitutes an increasingly illiterate nuclear power." That should stop us in our tracks. We have become, quite rightly in my opinion, very worried about the Iranian nuclear programme, but Pakistan already has nuclear weapons and delivery systems and, as the hon. Members for Bournemouth, East and for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) told us, it could well break up. It is very important that we recognise the importance of maintaining the integrity of Pakistan's borders, because if it does break up, the whole area will become much more problematic.
I have been reassured when I have been in Pakistan that the army is keeping a tight rein on the nuclear sites and missiles. As the House has been told before, one has only to go back two or three years to see the danger to the world of a stand-off between Pakistan and India. That was a very dangerous moment. The worst nightmare that one can imagine is an al-Qaeda attack on a nuclear establishment in which such people perhaps got hold of some of that stuff. Trying to help Pakistan to maintain security and, at the same time, encouraging it to begin to behave like a modern nation in the way in which it educates its young people is therefore vital. That is the proper way forward and it is the route that we are following.
I was very glad to hear the contribution of Jo Swinson. I remind her, however, that Pakistan is a sovereign nation—a very big sovereign nation that is very proud of its identity and the integrity of its borders. We would like to do many things in many countries in the world, but when it comes to, for example, a UN investigation into the death of Benazir Bhutto, it is a different situation from that of Hariri, because when Hariri was murdered, the Lebanese were worried that the murder had been planned and carried out by people from another country. I have not heard that as far as this murder is concerned—