Executive Summary: The Pakistan–Britain Terror Connection: Lessons and Warnings for the United States

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Executive Summary: The Pakistan–Britain Terror Connection: Lessons and Warnings for the United States

November 6, 2009 4 min read Download Report

Authors: Lisa Curtis and Ted Bromund

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There is a terror connection between Pakistan and Great Britain. Many of the planned or successful Islamist attacks in Britain have been linked directly or indirectly to Pakistan. British authorities have acknowledged that the al-Qaeda network based in Pakistan poses the greatest terrorist threat to Britain. This threat includes both terrorist attacks and the financial and ideological networks that support and inspire attacks.

For many years, the Pakistani state has minimized the danger that this threat posed to its neighbors, Western democracies, and its own existence. However, Pakistani resolve in fighting terrorism is beginning to strengthen, especially after several failed peace deals with militant groups and a fresh wave of attacks on military officials and installations. One sign of Islamabad's deepening commitment to fight terrorism is the new military offensive in South Waziristan in the tribal areas, which could be a turning point in the battle against terrorists hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Breaking this terror connection between Pakistan and Britain is central to winning the war on terrorism. It would improve the security of Britain and its allies, including the United States. It would also enhance Pakistan's stability and the security of important American partners, including India. However, breaking the terror connection will require U.S.-British cooperation in Afghanistan, a coordinated U.S.-British policy toward Pakistan, and a wide-ranging set of reforms in Britain.

Defeating the Islamist ideological challenge is central to breaking the connection. Unless Islamist ideologies are discredited, no victory in battle or policy will be permanent. The Western response, particularly the British response, to this challenge needs to include bold and repeated restatements by elected leaders of the political and civic principles of liberal government, the importance of equal rights under law, and the value of national citizenship.

Thus, the state has an indispensable role to play in confronting Islamism. However, because assimilating immigrants into the existing society is the basic problem in Britain and in the West as a whole, the state cannot do it all. The state's role in promoting the principles of citizenship must be balanced by its adoption of economic policies that emphasize private-sector job creation to integrate citizens of all national origins into the life of the nation.

Defeating Islamism at Home and Abroad. To break the terror connection between Pakistan and Britain and to defeat Islamism at home, Britain should:

  • Enforce its tightened immigration and asylum practices.
  • Not engage radicalism, but deport radicals when possible. Britain's democratic parties should not debase themselves by consorting with democracy's enemies.
  • Emphasize the deep deradicalization of economic opportunity. The pursuit of better jobs encourages individuals to move outside the ethnic communities that immigrants in all societies commonly form. In this way, the pursuit of self-interest advances social integration and discourages political communalism without heavy-handed government intervention.
  • Promote Britishness. British national identity is political and civic, and closed to no one because of ethnicity. It emphasizes the importance of equal rights under law and the rise of the security of property, religious freedom, and political rights within the framework of the supremacy and sovereignty of Parliament.

In addition, the U.S. and the U.K. should:

  • Recognize reliable and representative Muslim organizations that support religious pluralism, tolerance, and democratic principles.
  • Remain committed to stabilizing Afghanistan over the long term.
  • Coordinate more closely in monitoring international travel to and from Pakistan.
  • Continue to cooperate closely on homeland security.
  • Adopt consistent policies toward Pakistan that hold the country's officials accountable for stopping all support to terrorists.
  • Work to get a better handle on the extremist threat inside Pakistan.
  • Work with Pakistani civilian leaders to build a consensus within Pakistan against extremist messages and ideologies that foster terrorism.

Conclusion. The ultimate answer to the problem of Islamist-inspired terrorism based in Pakistan and Afghanistan is clear: Both states need to develop effective institutions that control the entirety of their national territory. In the absence of such control, Britain, the U.S., and their allies need to act to protect themselves. The terrorist links between Britain and Pakistan cannot be broken in one place or all at once. They were built up over generations and will take years to defeat. For that very reason, it is essential to start now and to work on several fronts at once.

The first front is in Afghanistan, where the U.S., the U.K., and their allies need to continue to put military pressure on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The second front is in Pakistan, which should be held accountable for its failure to act decisively against terrorism. The third front is in Britain, where a well-run system of border controls needs to supplement a firm rejection of cooperation with radical Islamism by all the parties and the promotion of citizenship and economic opportunity.

The United States can offer both direct assistance and inspiration for this battle. It is providing the majority of the forces employed in Afghanistan, and it needs to remain firmly committed to this battle. Equally, the U.S., as a nation of immigrants, offers an important example as Britain recognizes the broader implications of the substantially increased immigration into Britain since the late 1990s. In the long run, the most valuable service that the United States can provide is to keep faith with its founding virtues.

Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.


Lisa Curtis
Lisa Curtis

Former Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center

Theodore R. Bromund
Ted Bromund

Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom