42,000 in four years: it's too many to check
We might have to restrict students from Pakistan
Anatol Lieven, Times Online, April 11, 2009
The news that 11 of the 12 men arrested as suspected terrorists this week are Pakistani citizens is alarming but hardly surprising. The terrorist link between this country and Pakistan has long been obvious.
Only a small minority of Pakistanis actively support terrorism. But the terrorists there can find shelter among much larger numbers who not only loathe the US presence in Afghanistan, but sincerely believe that 9/11 was a CIA or Israeli plot, and that the entire War on Terror is a fraud designed to allow America to dominate the Muslim world.
The commonplace nature of these sentiments makes it hellishly difficult for security services to determine who is likely to progress beyond verbal radicalism to actual terrorism. And when you have widespread feelings among a population of 170 million then, with the best will in the world, how do you identify who is a really serious threat?
But do the Pakistani authorities have the best will in the world? So far, according to British officials, they have generally given very valuable help in the struggle against terrorism directed at the West, a clear contrast with their much more hesitant approach to the Taleban. But even these investigations are in danger of being compromised by extremist sympathisers in the security services.
An even greater obstacle is the poverty of the Pakistani police. Last summer, the police of the North West Frontier Province - the area most endangered by militancy - had only one fingerprinting machine. Policemen there are paid only twothirds of what their comrades in the richer Punjab receive - and half what the Taleban pays its fighters. Small wonder that their morale and efficiency are low. Relatively small amounts of British aid could make a huge difference here. The pay of the NWFP police could be doubled and their equipment and training radically improved for a mere $50million a year.
Britain will also have to do more itself to block possible terrorists coming from Pakistan. This will require more consular staff in Pakistan and more police and intelligence officers working with their Pakistani opposite numbers.
But - and I say this with the deepest regret as a professor with valued Pakistani students - 42,000 students from Pakistan in four years may be too many for anyone to check properly. If there are more plots we will need greater restrictions and reduced numbers. This would be essential for British security, but a tragedy for British-Pakistani relations.
Anatol Lieven is a professor in the War Studies Department of King's College London. He is writing a book on Pakistan.