British prime minister's terrorism allegations anger Pakistan

Pakistani and British officials meet ahead of Zardari visit to London. One killed as rockets fired from Sinai towards Israel and Jordan. President Obama confirms US combat troop withdrawal from Iraq. Iranian president calls for one-on-one television debate with US president. Chechen leader hands over leadership to younger comrade. Sudan makes UN peacekeeping forces report all movement within the country. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Jamie Munn
2 August 2010

The Pakistani government has summoned British officials in Islamabad for talks, following controversial comments from British Prime Minister David Cameron, whilst on a visit to India last week. The suggestions from Cameron that Pakistan was not doing enough to combat the export of terrorism were met with anger by both officials in Islamabad and protestors on the streets of Pakistani cities.

Officials from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have already cancelled a planned trip to the UK, where counter-terrorism tactics were due to be discussed, and the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, is under increasing domestic pressure to do the same. Zardari is due to meet with Cameron at Chequers – the British prime minister’s official country residence – on Friday, followed by a political rally for his supporters within Britain’s one-million-strong Pakistani community. A statement from Pakistan’s information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, indicated that Zardari will also aim to correct Cameron’s “misinterpretation” of the country’s fight against terrorism.

A spokesperson from the UK Foreign Office confirmed that “the British high commissioner to Pakistan is meeting this morning with the [Pakistani] foreign minister, at the request of the ministry of foreign affairs." Images of a burning effigy of Cameron have received widespread attention in the British media.

Cameron’s said in a speech that "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world." The fact that the comments were made in India, Pakistan’s historic rival, are also seen as antagonistic, and British officials are now trying to ensure that relations between the UK and Pakistan and not harmed. Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the Pakistani envoy in Britain, has tried to dissuade British Pakistanis from demonstrating against the comments prior to Zardari’s visit.

The remarks came less than a week after US documents on the war in Afghanistan linking Pakistani agents to Taliban officials were leaked by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks. Islamabad denied the accusations, saying that Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism than any other country; more than 3,500 Pakistani civilians have been killed by terrorists over the past three years. Such allegations had already been aired in a recent report from the London School of Economics.

Cameron received further criticism on a visit to Turkey last week over his comments, directed towards Israel, that Gaza had become a “prison”, as well as a remark in America that Britain was the “junior partner” of the US.

The openSecurity verdict: British Prime Minister David Cameron’s open and frank comments over the past couple of weeks have been heralded by some as a ‘new style of diplomacy’. For many, including many British citizens and politicians, they have been viewed as unfortunate and un-diplomatic to say the least. Foreign Office veterans have raised eyebrows, expressed alarm and shuddered in dismay at a series of remarks that are all the more provocative for where they have been said as well as the content. Rebuking Pakistan in India, and Israel in Turkey cannot be described as delicate in the slightest. Pakistan is an important ally of the United Kingdom, both historically, with over one million people of Pakistani descent living in Britain, and strategically; Pakistan is vital to any solution for the conflict in Afghanistan. It carries influence and power within the region, and claims to carry the same anti-Taliban sentiment as the UK and the coalition forces.

The prime minister attacked Pakistan for “looking both ways”, but his own speech is unlikely to resolve difficulties emerging from the undeniable support the Taliban receives from sympathetic Pakistanis. He didn’t acknowledge the role and sacrifices that Pakistan has had in fighting the Taliban, and if President Zardari’s planned visit to London this week doesn’t manage to resolve the issue then any progress – past, present and future – made in Afghanistan may be put at risk; accusations that Pakistan is supportive of the Taliban, should they alienate Pakistan’s elite from the US and UK, could even be self-fulfilling, as the country turns to alternative guardians of its interests in the region other than ISAF forces and the Kabul government.

Feathers were also ruffled in the UK, when on a visit to the US, Cameron said that Britain and Britons should accept the ‘junior role’ in its relationship with the US, adding that that junior role extended back to 1940 during the Second World War, when Churchill was trying to persuade the US to join the allied effort against the Nazis. Other comments, made in Turkey, were seen as an attack on EU allies, France and Germany, during a pledge to battle EU states that are against Turkey joining the union. Israel also lodged protests after the prime minister characterised Gaza as a prison camp.

Britain’s multitudinous interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India - economic, military, and security - need to be balanced in statements from government officials. Britain needs to direct its efforts to bringing about reconciliation with Pakistan, but more importantly between Pakistan and India (their difficulties in part the reason for the sensitivity to these remarks), and Pakistan and Afghanistan, all still in dispute over borders established under British oversight.

Rockets fired from Sinai towards Israel and Jordan

Rockets thought to have been fired from Egypt’s Sinai desert have hit Red Sea resorts in Jordan and Israel. One person has been killed and four injured as a result of the attack on Jordan; there are no reported casualties from the adjacent Israeli resort. "The Grad rocket landed in a public street near a major five star hotel and caused four injuries, with three persons lightly wounded and the other casualty in serious condition," a source from the Jordanian interior ministry told Reuters.

At least five rockets are reported to have been fired. One reached the Israeli resort of Eilat, one the nearby Jordanian city of Aqaba, and three landed in the Red Sea. Egypt has denied its territory was used to launch the attack, and indeed, it is rare for rockets towards Israel to be launched from the Sinai desert. Egyptian officials reiterated that they have a strong presence in the Sinai area and that no suspicious activity had been found.

Israel has warned of a recent rise in militant activity in the Sinai Peninsula and has tried to discourage its citizens from holidaying in the Eilat resorts, which are seen as vulnerable to attack. Rockets were fired towards the city from the peninsula in April, and a suicide bomber killed three people in there in 2007.

The attack comes after Israeli air strikes against Gaza over the weekend, which killed at least one person, and an explosion at the home of a senior Hamas commander that injured more than twenty; Israel has denied any involvement in the latter.

Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab states to have full peace accords with Israel.

Obama confirms combat troop exit from Iraq by August

US President Barack Obama is set to announce today the confirmation of a withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.

It comes on the same day as Washington and Baghdad clash over casualty numbers; US military figures put the number killed in July at 222, whilst Iraq says that 535 died – which would make July the most deadly month in the country for two years.

In released excerpts of a speech that Obama is due to give to the Disabled American Veterans convention he stated that "Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility, and I made it clear that by 31 August, 2010, America's combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing, as promised, on schedule."

The US plans a full military exit by the end of 2011, but the ongoing political instability in Iraq makes that aim seem dubious. At the same time, America is increasing its presence in Afghanistan where 30,000 more troops are due to be sent.

Iran calls for presidential television debate with United States

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on US President Barack Obama to have a one-on-one television debate with him later this year, over the future of the world’s problems.

"Towards the end of summer we will hopefully be there for the [UN] General Assembly and I will be ready for one-on-one talks with Mr Obama, in front of the media of course. We will offer our solutions for world issues to see whose solutions are better," Ahmadinejad told a conference in Tehran. Ahmadinejad went on to say that US policy was based on “the law of the jungle … We have always favoured talks, Iranians have never, ever favoured war.”

The proposal comes as Tehran tries to deal with further sanctions from the UN and the EU over its alleged programme to produce nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime has always denied that its programme is for anything other than peaceful means.

Yesterday Obama’s main military advisor said that the US had a plan to attack Iran, if needed. Admiral Mike Mullen’s confirmation is a change to the usual rhetoric of “all options remain open”, but he stressed that it would be an option of last resort.

Chechen rebel leader resigns

Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel leader who claimed responsibility for the attacks on Moscow’s Metro system earlier this year that killed 40 people, is said to be resigning from his post ‘due to his age’.

Umarov, 46, has released a video in which he says that a younger comrade, Aslambek Vadalov, could lead “more energetically”. The video appeared on a French video sharing website, before being removed.

As well as the Moscow Metro attacks, Umarov, who took leadership of the Caucasus Emirate Islamist rebel group in 2006, also ordered the bombing of a train that was going from Moscow to St Petersburg, which killed 26 people in November 2009.

Umarov served as the security minister for the separatist Chechen state from 1996-99 and is viewed by both Russia and the United States as a terrorist.

UN forces in Sudan to inform government of all movements

UN peacekeeping forces in Sudan will now have to inform the government of all road movements and be subject to airport bag searches, government spokesperson Rabie Abdelati told the Reuters news agency yesterday.

Khartoum issued the directive alongside claims that the UN had failed to keep peace at refugee camps. Sudan claims that figures released by the UN estimating that 2.6 million people have been displaced and 300,000 killed since ethnic rebellions started in 2003 are exaggerated.

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