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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
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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 the Member for Witney (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
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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.

3.39 pm

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) on securing this important debate. May I also join the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (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 27 December.

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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 the hon. Member for Banbury (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.

Mr. Newmark: 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.

Dr. Howells: 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—

3.46 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

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4.1 pm

On resuming—

Dr. Howells: 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.

Mr. Ellwood: 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
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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—

John Cummings (in the Chair): Order. Interventions must be brief.

Dr. Howells: 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.

Mr. Ellwood: 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?

Dr. Howells: 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
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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.

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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 the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (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—

John Cummings (in the Chair): Order. We must move on to the debate on Henderson hospital.

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