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16 Jan 2008 : Column 289WH—continued

Mr. Ellwood: 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.

Mr. Newmark: 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?

Mr. Ellwood: 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.

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I thank the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Braintree (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.

Mr. Ellwood: 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
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9/11 commission on the terrorist attacks, as many as 20,000 people were trained in bin Laden-supported camps between May 1996 and 11 September 2001. That is a huge number, although of course only a few went on to undertake specialist training and become killers. Nevertheless, it is a worrying statistic, and I should like the Minister to tell us what those numbers are today, if he has those statistics.

Dr. Howells: 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?

Mr. Ellwood: 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.

Mr. Newmark: 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?

Mr. Ellwood: 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 22 December 2001, attempted to hijack the Paris to Miami flight; Mohammad Sidique Khan, who was the leader of the 7/7 bombings, which killed 52 people in London; Hambali and Imam
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Samudra, who orchestrated the attack on the night clubs in Bali, on 12 October 2002, which killed 26 Britons and 202 people in all; less well-known are Jamal Zougam and Emilio Trashorras, who masterminded the terrible Madrid train bombings, which were the biggest attacks in Europe, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800, when 10 bombs blew up a series of commuter trains in the capital city; and Mohammad Atta, who flew one of the American airline planes into the north tower of the World Trade Centre. He and the other hijackers, along with the other terrorists whom I have just mentioned, all received their training in camps in the Pakistani and Afghan mountains—camps that are still recruiting. We are not doing enough because those camps are not being closed.

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:

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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.

John Cummings (in the Chair): I was in the Tea Room at 10 to 7.

Mr. Ellwood: 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

They are very powerful words, and I should be grateful to hear the Minister’s response to them.

Mr. Newmark: 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


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.

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Mr. Ellwood: 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:


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.

Mr. Newmark: Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Cummings (in the Chair): Please make your intervention brief.

Mr. Newmark: 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?

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Mr. Ellwood: 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:

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
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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.

3.3 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (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,

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