Jamie Doward and Rajeev Syal, Observer (London), April 12, 2009
The UK must distance itself from American foreign policy if Pakistani youths are to be prevented from growing up hating Britain, according to the government’s social cohesion minister.
The comments by Sadiq Khan, who has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Pakistan, follow the arrests of 12 men–10 of whom were Pakistani nationals–in the north-west of England last week on suspicion of planning a terror attack. They are likely to be given short shrift from Number 10, which has been keen to ally itself to the Obama administration. Earlier this month Gordon Brown stressed the two allies were united in their fight against terrorism in Pakistan.
But Khan, London’s first Muslim MP, said the UK must differentiate itself from the US after attending meetings at universities in Pakistan. “I listened to the anger and pain over the challenges that young people growing up in Pakistan face, including the anger and frustration over US drone attacks,” he said.
The attacks by unmanned US drones have provoked fury in Pakistan, where scores of militants have been killed in the country’s remote border regions, along with innocent civilians.
“The anger and frustration at the drone attacks was huge,” Khan said. “The view they [the students] had was that the UK was somehow responsible for this. They haven’t understood this was purely a US matter. They lumped us together with the US, which to me is a poison. It demonstrates to me we have a big problem.”
Khan, whose parents are from Pakistan, suggested the UK should look to reach out to disaffected Muslim youths by emphasising the close links between the two countries. “Much of the Pakistani population doesn’t realise the good we are doing,” Khan said: the UK is to double aid to Pakistan to £180m by 2011.
Crucial to winning hearts and minds, Khan said, was dismantling the perception that the US and the UK were one and the same over foreign policy. Acknowledging the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had mobilised Muslim opinion against the UK, Khan said: “Because of things that happened in 2003, there is an uphill battle. We need better to explain that there has been a distinct change in UK foreign policy.
“For example, this month the last troops will come home from Iraq: that’s very different from the US. The drone attacks are US, not UK; our development policy doesn’t have the strings that come with US aid.”
Khan’s comments come as ministers seek to increase the numbers of security officials in Pakistan to help in vetting those applying for visas to Britain. At present there are fewer than 10 security service officers assessing the backgrounds of more than 20,000 applications a year. “At present, we are reliant on a small number of officials who do the ground work; that is reliant on the Pakistani government giving us what it knows. That should improve in the near future, and can be done with the co-operation of Pakistan,” a Home Office source said.
Government figures show that 42,292 student visas were issued to Pakistanis between April 2004 and April 2008.