"Line of terror"

The Guardian describes Gordon’s new terminology for the War on Terror. The “axis of evil” has been replaced by the “line of terror”.


Gordon Brown’s repeated references to what he calls “a line of terror” through the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, via Europe to Britain, reflect why his foreign policy focus is increasingly moving east.

Critically, unlike George Bush’s “axis of evil”, Brown’s line or chain of terror – a process he describes stretching from the training camps of Pakistan, from where jihadis flow across the border into Afghanistan to fight British troops, and potentially through Europe to commit terrorist atrocities closer to home – incorporates states he regards as potential allies as well as risks, such as Pakistan.

While the core concept of the “axis of evil” rested on the notion of state-support as the engine of terrorism, the “line of terror” idea appears to rely upon the idea of supporting formal states in conflict with ungovernable and illegitimate subnational units. Brown, who told Pakistani President Ali Asif Zardari that 3/4 of all terror plots in Britain were hatched in Pakistan, announced that Britain would provide training and other assistance to help it crack down on “the chain of terrorism that links the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of Britain.”

This shift in terminology may imply two things. First, that Brown, in harmony with Barack Obama’s own views, regards Southwest Asia and not the Middle East as the strategic center of gravity of the terrorist threat. Second, that future responses to terrorism will take the form, not of toppling state sponsors of terrorism, but “helping” governments rein in militants. If the military expression of bringing down state sponsors of terrorism was the conventional military invasion, the corresponding mode for the Brown/Obama strategy will be counterinsurgency, aid and diplomacy.


Mr Brown also announced increased British support for Pakistani counter-terrorism work, including greater support for Pakistani police work on detecting and defusing bombs. The UK will also fund more scanning equipment at Pakistani airports

British police will also work with their Pakistani counterparts providing help with forensic science and contingency planning for major terrorist incidents. There will also be a £6 million British fund to help Pakistan counter the radicalization of young Muslims.

The Prime Minister said his aim was to form “the most comprehensive anti-terror programme Britain has with any country”. Mr Brown said: “I want to help Pakistan root out terrorism. It is right that we help Pakistan root out terrorism.”

The problem as always in these cases, is drawing a bright line between friend and foe when both may be officially indistinguishable. The recent assassination of Pakistani Major-General Faisal Alavi, a former head of Pakistan’s special forces (and the brother in law of V. S. Naipaul) underscores how the doomed general found it necessary in the end to fight his own comrades unprotected by the institutions he served. Alavi was preparing to “to expose Pakistani army generals who had made deals with Taliban militants” and was murdered for his troubles.

Three years earlier this feted general, who was highly regarded by the SAS, had been mysteriously sacked as head of its Pakistani equivalent, the Special Services Group, for “conduct unbecoming”. … Alavi believed he had been forced out because he was openly critical of deals that senior generals had done with the Taliban. …


The Sunday Times described how Alavi accused certain Pakistani generals of being in cahoots with the “line of terror”. Alavi was killed after he sent a letter to the Pakistani authorities demanding an investigation. Correspondent Carey Schoefield wrote:

He told me how one general had done an astonishing deal with Baitullah Mehsud, the 35-year-old Taliban leader, now seen by many analysts as an even greater terrorist threat than Osama Bin Laden.

Mehsud, the main suspect in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto late last year, is also believed to have been behind a plot to bomb transport networks in several European countries including Britain, which came to light earlier this year when 14 alleged conspirators were arrested in Barcelona.

Yet, according to Alavi, a senior Pakistani general came to an arrangement with Mehsud “whereby – in return for a large sum of money – Mehsud’s 3,000 armed fighters would not attack the army”.

The two senior generals named in Alavi’s letter to Kayani were in effect complicit in giving the militants free rein in return for refraining from attacks on the Pakistani army, he said. At Hereford, Alavi was brutally frank about the situation, said the commanding officer of the SAS at that time.

In the end, the unnamed generals proved able to kill Alavi before he could expose them. The question of how deeply the Pakistani government has been infiltrated or is actually one and the same with the “line of terror” may be revived by reports, contained in a forthcoming book, that Osama Bin Laden had been offered a nuclear weapon by “Chaudiri Abdul Majeed and Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, who held a series of senior posts in Pakistani nuclear program”.


The 414-page book is authored by two investigative journalists–Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins.What’s more revealing is that a year before they met bin Laden in Kandahar, the two Pakistani nuke scientists had set up a non-profit organisation, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, to carry out relief work in Afghanistan, including advising the Taliban on scientific matters. And, on the board of the organisation were several Pakistani Army generals sympathetic to the Taliban cause.

Pakistan will probably welcome Brown’s efforts to help. In the days immediately following September 11, the Pakistanis made a show of cooperating with the United States, but the depth of their sincerity has been questioned. Now, after the attacks on Mumbai that have brought Islamabad’s relations with India to the brink, there are signs that it is again going through the motions of cracking down on terrorist organizations. The Times of India says that many terrorist front organizations have gone suspiciously quiet. Have they been dismantled or are they playing possum?

A coalition of several major jihadi organisations, headed by terrorist Syed Salahuddin, has simply disappeared. It has temporarily dissolved itself, closed its offices, removed all signs and asked its leaders to stay quiet, reports a prominent Pakistan daily on Saturday. … “Following the Mumbai attacks and the subsequent tension between Pakistan and India, the United Jihad Council has decided to remain silent,” reports The News International quoting a commander of one of the UJC member organisations who requested anonymity.


The danger with letting states off the hook by replacing the notion of an “axis of evil” with that of the “line of terror” is that states may actually be sponsoring terrorism and simply be pretending not to. Whether or not terrorism is actually rooted in states, non-state actors or a combination of both, its leadership is well aware of the no-go political categories behind which they can enjoy sanctuary. GWB effectively declared the Islam, or at least certain parts of it, off limits to criticism. Now Brown and possibly Obama are implying that regimes need no longer fear replacement. Both are calculated to limit the degree of conflict between cultures and to attract allies. There are many good reasons to adopt this approach. Yet these limitations may also guarantee that terrorism will always have a place where it can legitimately rear its head. The border between a “partner for peace” and the enemy is often a sketchy one.

The task of helping the “moderates” crack down on the “radicals” will be hard, if fifty years of experience in Palestine is any guide. And if Major-General Faisal Alavi, a former head of the Pakistani SAS with unparalleled contacts could be killed for threatening to expose his colleagues, it will also be dangerous. One can only hope that the Western policy will do better against the “line of terror” than the efforts of the recent past.


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