by Kyle Orton
Friday, 10
September 2021
Spotted
17:27

Why Britain is uniquely vulnerable to a new wave of terrorism

Deep links with Pakistan will open the door to terrorists
by Kyle Orton
Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan.

The restoration of the Taliban-Qaeda regime in Afghanistan is a terrorism threat to the whole world, but Britain has some unique vulnerabilities, as MI5 Director general Ken McCallum warned today. 

The jihadist army that just captured Afghanistan is part of a broad, transnational network controlled by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Britain has long been a node in this ISI network. Masood Azhar, an ISI operative and United Nations-listed terrorist, toured Britain in 1993, fundraising and recruiting for the Kashmir jihad, while laying down local networks to continue the job. Some of these networks later defected to the Islamic State.

Azhar had created a template for “Londonistan” in the 1990s, where jihadists set up shop in London to provide resources to insurgencies in the Muslim world. There was a de facto agreement with the British state that so long as this activity was directed abroad, the jihadists would not be interfered with. This agreement held even when the London networks got mixed up in international terrorism. The price of this bargain was shown on 7 July 2005.

Even after that attack, there was a reluctance to see the jihadist networks as a two-way street — that what they had once exported, could be imported. The official British government report — while acknowledging that two of the 7/7 killers had “visited Pakistan with their families” and at least one of them was “believed to have had some relevant training in a remote part of Pakistan” — said it could find “no firm evidence” of Al-Qaeda’s role. Al-Qaeda provided that evidence weeks later.

Since the ISI ecosystem is largely responsible for the radicalism problem in Britain and was behind one of one of the worst attacks in British history, one might expect Britain to be at the forefront of efforts to punish Pakistan for its relentless sponsorship of terrorism. Such expectations would be wrong. Britain’s official outlook on Pakistan, reflected by the BBC, is very sympathetic for two primary reasons.

The first is political. As the 7/7 report noted, the Pakistan trips the killers made raised no red flags at the time because “[e]xtended visits to Pakistan by young men are not unusual”: nearly half a million U.K. residents went to Pakistan in 2004 for “an average length of 41 days”. This is one metric of the intimate relations between the British-Pakistani populations and Pakistan. As Azhar showed, this is not just familial, but politico-religious.

The million-plus British-Pakistanis are a relatively small part of the overall population (about 2%), but they concentrate in wards of cities like Birmingham and Bradford. At election times, they form a key swing constituency, and some of the most influential figures that set the political agenda for the community are pro-ISI. The ISI makes life difficult for British-Pakistanis who oppose the Pakistan Army’s programme and this marginalisation means that, when courting votes, both political parties are wary of adopting anti-ISI positions. There is the added factor that damaging relations with the Pakistani diaspora would have knock-on effects for any party’s relations with the wider Muslim community.

The second, very much related reason, is security. The scale of the intermingling between the two populations provides obvious opportunities for terrorist planners. This was bad enough when NATO had troops and a friendly government in Afghanistan, as 7/7 showed. The Taliban takeover has blinded Western intelligence. It will now be much easier for Westerners to land in Pakistan, link up with terrorists in Afghanistan to receive training and orders, and return home without the knowledge of Western governments; it is not as if the Taliban will be stamping passports. The ISI will be there to offer itself as the answer to this conundrum — for a price.

It might seem absurd that Pakistan can be paid to neutralise some of the terrorists it produces or provides haven to, but the country continues to take advantage of it. Pakistan’s rent-seeking strategy is based on creating problems the West perceives as too difficult to confront, then demanding payment to mitigate the effects. 

For twenty years, Pakistan has been one of the largest recipients of British aid money, partly for counter-terrorism cooperation, and received even larger sums from the US. This money ended up helping the ISI support the terrorists it was supposed to be fighting, who killed thousands of British and NATO troops and tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan.

Incredibly, Pakistan never incurred sanctions or even lost its “Major Non-NATO Ally” status for installing terrorists in power in Afghanistan. With the Taliban restored to power, the terrorist threat to Britain is now, as Ken McCallum warned, indeed a “real and enduring thing”.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
11 months ago

I just learned more about Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan, and terrorism in general, from this short article than I’ve managed to glean from numerous mainstream publications.
Come on, Unherd, commission a full length piece from this guy.

Andrew D
Andrew D
11 months ago

‘For twenty years, Pakistan has been one of the largest recipients of British aid money, partly for counter-terrorism cooperation, and received even larger sums from the US. This money ended up helping the ISI support the terrorists it was supposed to be fighting, who killed thousands of British and NATO troops and tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan’.
Proof, if any were needed, that we’re finished, and that we deserve it.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I did not read the article as I was sure I would not like it, or agree, too many variables in this chaos to start predicting.

But the Geo-Political positioning of Pakistan makes it a world player as it sits central to the 4 part global scene – Russia, China, USA, and India. This gives it Huge latitude to anger everyone and play the rogue state because if you act against it, the other camps will take it in.

It would seem ISI is the big power, unelected and unregulated, and is in many ways a rogue intelligence agency. They have been called the Strong Force needed in the weak government to have stability, the force required with so many differing religious/political factions and regions at odds.. One is beginning to see some parallel in USA with NSA, CIA, and FBI (I think USA has 20 different intelligence agencies, or some amount which is surprising) beginning to take on powers they do not legitimately hold, for the same reason, a weak government in a nation of great many divisions. (caused by the weak government, allowing Soros and other hostile forces to capture internal institutions).

The problem is when Intelligence agencies go rogue is they have their own political agenda which they then promote.

“Pakistan’s sinister Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Known as Pakistan’s ‘secret army’ and ‘invisible government’, its shadowy past is linked to political assassinations and the smuggling of narcotics as well as nuclear and missile components.”

There is much rumors of ISI and CIA running a vast opium game in the Western Frontier region in the 1980s/90s to fund the anti- Russian war… very reminiscent of Central America, and Iran-Contra, and ‘Air America’ in Laos.

When Central Government gets weak – and the Democrat Party is the very meaning of weak – they hold office because they get all the weird and ignorant and divided groups of voters, but are such buffoons that they do not weild power, just chaos. This makes the Intelegence Agencies move in to maintain order – and that is usually not good as they are quite a-moral and sneaky.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
11 months ago

Really good article – as others said – give this guy more column inches.
It’s stating the bleeding obvious, but the fact that Osama Bin Laden was living in Pakistan right under the noses of their military tells you all you need to know about the country and its duplicitous foreign policies.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

It’s been obvious since the days the US were complicit on the Pakistani side in various wars with India, that the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments are operating a mafiosi style racket – with the west as one of the paying customers/victims, but the biggest victims are the people in Pakistan, who are too stupid to see this and chuck them out.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

Because people are mostly utterly fed up with our two decade engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq – the trauma it has seemingly engendered on us both financially and morally, they are relieved to leave notwithstanding the messy end, and are indulging a blind spot: that there will be no consequences to leaving the taliban in control. But that is simply not the case.

Instead of looking at the west, I keep looking at what the Russians and the Chinese are doing. Notwithstanding some vaguely conciliatory mood music initially, basically done to troll the west, it looks to me that they are both extremely wary of engaging with the taliban, and that tells you everything you need to know. Only Pakistan is stupid enough to ride this tiger and they are going to discover sooner rather than later that there is no way of getting off.

Last edited 11 months ago by Prashant Kotak
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Another aspect of ‘the slow train crash’ that is the human situation.

James Joyce
James Joyce
11 months ago

Quick summary: Pakistan is the enemy of the West. Duh! Many Pakistanis in the West are sympathetic to jihad. Time for the West to wake up and harden the target. It is not a good thing that Pakistanis make up 2% of the UK population, while will likely grow much faster than the natives.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
11 months ago

Deep links? You mean just overwhelming numbers don’t you?