For some people, the internet does not exist. For others, the internet is not a free, anarchistic haven but is instead carefully policed by the state. These two important facts were easily brushed aside by the clamour caused by British Primeminister David Cameron’s comments about Pakistan and fighting terrorism whilst visiting India. We, in the free world, may forget that what we can read on Wikileaks is far from accessible to all. When Wikileaks publishes documents alleging that some in Pakistan’s intelligence services are aiding the Afghan insurgents, how should a British PM respond? Should he act dumb, and pretend nobody has ever hinted such a thing? Or should he say something that alerts all those people who will never get to read Wikileaks for themselves? The significance of Cameron’s remarks are plain enough, unlike what Cameron actually said. He rather vaguely suggested (despite the assertions he was being ‘frank’) that Pakistan should not back terrorism whilst fighting terrorism. On one level, this is as dull a statement as one could imagine. In the context of the revelations gifted to us by Wikileaks, it has a much more significant connotation – it says Pakistan’s intelligence services need to get their own house into order.
The response by Pakistan’s intelligence services is to cancel a meeting in the UK in protest. This signals that they are surprisingly thin-skinned, and that they put their pride ahead of the fight on terror. The cancelled meeting was to be about anti-terror cooperation with the UK. But it also tells us far more about Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces. It shows that they are not beholden to Pakistan’s civilian government. Pakistan’s President will still be visiting the UK. Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces will stay home and sulk. This is unfortunate, because the Pakistan’s forces need all the help they can get. Pakistan is, after all, a country where terrorists can walk around the country’s second largest city, brandishing automatic rifles during daylight hours, and proceed to surround and attack the Sri Lankan cricket team on their way to a match. Whatever pride the Pakistanis feel at the sacrifices made to fight terror, it should be tainted by the humility that comes with realizing they are not winning that fight.
The would-be opposition leader and former Home Secretary David Miliband, has made the most of the opportunity created by a minor falling-out between Cameron and Pakistan. Miliband is the front-runner for the Labour Party leadership, but in danger of being eclipsed by his younger brother. To him, this is a godsend. For Miliband, foreign policy is one area where he can talk with some degree of authority knowing his leadership rivals will struggle to compete. He was, after all, Foreign Secretary for three years. His criticism of Cameron is that the PM said too much. This might be a more stinging rebuke, if it had come from some other former Foreign Secretary. However, Miliband was the Foreign Secretary who usually said too little. Even ardent supporters struggle to come up with one significant achievement from Miliband’s three years in the Foreign Office. Miliband was the Foreign Secretary when Israel was caught copying British passports for use to send assassins around the world – and he had very little to say on the subject. Miliband was long responsible for relations with the US whilst they were chasing British hacker Gary McKinnon for a completely unreasonable punishment, made possible by Labour’s grovelling and lop-sided acquiescence to the US anti-terror agenda – and he had very little to say on the subject. And when Gordon Brown was leading his party to electoral defeat, and many in his party were calling on Miliband to challenge him as leader, he stuck true to form – and said as little as possible, either in support of Brown or otherwise. Miliband is as slippery, intangible and inevitable as cold water… he prefers to follow the path of least resistance. No doubt he calculates this will lead to inevitable political success, as surely as the rivers flow into the sea. However, it also leaves vulnerable to the accusation that he is insubstantial.
To be fair to David Miliband, he did speak up sometimes. Unfortunately, it was usually at just the wrong time. Perhaps, being battered by his own bad experiences, he feels entitled to counsel Cameron from making similar mistakes. After all, Miliband knows all about putting his foot in his mouth whilst visiting India. This is what The Independent wrote about Miliband’s 2009 trip:
Miliband’s trip to India ‘a disaster’, after Kashmir gaffe
David Miliband was beginning to look as accident-prone as Mr Bean last night after yet another adventure backfired…
…the Foreign Secretary’s visit to India last week was labelled a “disaster” by the country’s leading politicians…
…he was accused of being “aggressive in tone and manner” in a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and dismissed as a “young man” by senior officials…
…Mr Miliband was forced to defend his three-day tour of India and Pakistan last night, insisting he had been “open and honest”. The visit had been billed as a “solidarity” trip over the terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
Much of that uproar was prompted by an article Miliband wrote where he commented on the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Miliband argued that a resolution would reduce the popularity of Pakistani extremists in that area, and allow Pakistan’s forces to concentrate on fighting terror on their Western borders. Obviously, this did not go down well with India’s politicians. The difference between Miliband in 2009 and Cameron in 2010 is pretty straightforward. In 2009, Miliband indulged his own speculative theories on how to attain peace, by writing an article telling foreign governments what they should do. In 2010, Cameron responded to a question, given without any prior preparation or warning, by reflecting on the fact that if some of the things leaked by Wikileaks are true, then that would be bad. Comparing the two circumstances, we should consider Miliband’s own advice to Cameron:
If you want to tell it how it is, you need to know how it is.
Cameron in 2010 gave an ad lib that pretty much said the frankly obvious about something which had recently been put in the public domain. In doing so, he offended some people. Miliband in 2009 sat down and, with careful forethought, wrote down a theory that was totally unprovable. In doing so, he offended some people. The question that comes to mind is: what did Miliband think he knew about Indian-Pakistani relations in 2009? And returning to the present day, what does Miliband now know about diplomacy that he did not know before?
It is at times like these we should turn to a respected leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner for some words of wisdom on how to be diplomatic in the pursuit of peace. Unfortunately, I do not know of any respected leaders or Nobel laureates with any words of wisdom to offer. Instead, here is Barack Obama with what he had to say about Pakistan, during the first Presidential campaign debate:
We’ve got to deal with Pakistan, because al Qaeda and the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan, across the border in the northwest regions, and although, you know, under George Bush, with the support of Senator McCain, we’ve been giving them $10 billion over the last seven years, they have not done what needs to be done to get rid of those safe havens.
Hmmm… sounds pretty frank to me. I imagine the Pakistanis might have heard those comments too. So Obama said the Pakistanis had $10 billion – thanks to George W. Bush and Obama’s rival, John McCain – but had not got the job done. What did McCain have to say in response?
Now, on this issue of aiding Pakistan, if you’re going to aim a gun at somebody, George Shultz, our great secretary of state, told me once, you’d better be prepared to pull the trigger.
I’m not prepared at this time to cut off aid to Pakistan. So I’m not prepared to threaten it, as Senator Obama apparently wants to do, as he has said that he would announce military strikes into Pakistan.
We’ve got to get the support of the people of — of Pakistan. He said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan.
Now, you don’t do that. You don’t say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government.
So McCain was saying that there are some things you should not say out loud about how you deal with the problems in Pakistan. To which Obama came back with:
Now, Senator McCain is also right that it’s difficult. This is not an easy situation. You’ve got cross-border attacks against U.S. troops.
And we’ve got a choice. We could allow our troops to just be on the defensive and absorb those blows again and again and again, if Pakistan is unwilling to cooperate, or we have to start making some decisions.
And the problem, John, with the strategy that’s been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, “Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he’s our dictator.”
And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren’t going after al Qaeda, and they are more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan.
Hmmm… so Obama’s saying something here about siding with and supporting democratic civilian governments, instead of just kowtowing to the Pakistani generals that had not only run the fight against terror, but have long been running the whole country.
If we place Cameron on an Obama-McCain scale, we find Cameron is:
– Like Obama and unlike McCain in saying what needs to be done and not accepting Pakistani failure.
– Like Obama and unlike McCain in siding with the civilian government and not appeasing the generals.
How very interesting that Cameron and Obama seem to strike a common note in how to deal with the diplomatic tensions around Pakistan – with a degree of openness and impatience for results – whilst Miliband and McCain preferred to keep quiet. Presumably this is a rare occasion where David Miliband disagrees with an Obama administration that Miliband has otherwise described as “brilliant”.
David Miliband is one of the few politicians to have explicitly talked about the Wikileaks revelations. The Guardian reported Miliband thus:
Labour leadership candidate David Miliband, said the “war logs” showed that the war could not be won by military means alone.
“We cannot kill our way out of an insurgency. Instead, the battle for power is fought in the minds of the local population, insurgents and western publics. The purpose of military effort and civilian improvement is to create the conditions for political settlement.
“There is now a race against time to persuade the Afghan people that the correct strategy is in place and show our own people it can succeed. Better Afghan security forces, better police, better schooling and economic opportunities are all vital but not enough. None of them are durable or possible without a political settlement.”
Miliband, the former foreign secretary, said any peace settlement “must include the vanquished as well as the victors” and urged the government in Kabul to involve Afghans in “defining a political endgame”.
All of which would seem to imply that the Pakistanis are irrelevant, or at least not worth mentioning. Did Miliband actually read what had been leaked about the Pakistanis, or is he just pretending there were no accusations about their involvement? Miliband may not always be the most careful reader, of course. At the same time as he is posturing about Cameron, Miliband was caught making another gaffe, this time relating to the war in Iraq. Miliband explained his support for the war in Iraq by saying:
I voted to support the government in 2003, not least having read Hans Blix’s 174-page document detailing the unaccounted for weapons of mass destruction.
Presumably Hans Blix’s report, like the Wikileaks revelations, were another example of Miliband doing his reading, but being none too careful to check his facts. This is what Blix himself had to say about the very same report:
It was not in my view a very revealing document. It was to be the basis for our selection of key remaining disarmament issues. But when [then Foreign Secretary, Jack] Straw read it on the plane he said: ‘Well, this is it. This is the way they behaved all the way through the 90s and this is the way they are behaving now.’ The only trouble was that at that very moment I was reporting to the security council, ‘this is not quite the way they are behaving now; they are behaving much better…’.
I do not have much to say about Cameron; his foreign relations performance has been plain enough to see. Cameron has not been particularly diplomatic, and he has been rather blunt. It is a matter of judgement as to whether he has been too blunt, or whether he was just saying what needed to be said. The facts are out, the words are out, and we should feel lucky to live in places where information is available and speech is free. Instead, let us finish with what Miliband has to say about making speeches.
The lesson for David Cameron is clear: opposition is about chasing headlines but government is about doing the right thing.
Perhaps Miliband has forgotten he is in opposition now. Or perhaps he is just following his own advice…