Britain’s Pivot To The Middle East And War Against Terror


When Pakistan came in to being in 1947, the world was passing through a peculiar phase that was marked by the end of World War II. In essence the creation of Pakistan, and India, was as much an outcome of the global situation, as it was an output of local struggle for independence. The timing was obviously the key. Had the Great Britain been as strong, it probably would have never agreed to the indigenous demands. In this respect, the tussles of European powers that were playing out in different regions of the world, including Europe, played a significant role.

World War II ended one phase of eternal global power competitions, with US emerging supreme, and commenced another one, which came to be known as the Cold War. The Cold War that was fought on many continents and over many decades, met its end in Afghanistan, with the eventual demise of Soviet Union.

It was followed by a decade of strategic confusion in the US; after a long time, it did not have a comparable enemy to contest with. And, in the academic and strategic thinking circles, an introspection continued on what this meant for it it’s foreign, economic, and defense policy. The 9/11 starkly ended that this decade of ambiguity and war on terror was unleashed. Now, the world stands at a juncture that neither appears to be the middle nor the end of this particular chapter.

This is where the parallels of history can be useful to examine; that is to judge where are we in comparison to previous struggles. After all, past is the best gauge for the future.


Proximity to History

The concept of proximity is essential to human existence, lacking it much confusion and chaos can emerge. One of the most basic and important functions of any leader is to provide a vision and a sense of direction. However, often times they misdirect the people or claim success prematurely for political gains, and this overtime leads to the kind public apathy we are witnessing today.

Looking at the past for clues is a tricky business as there is no ready-made one-to-one comparison available. One of the ways to go about it; is to develop trends and patterns that to some extent explain the present circumstances. Once that has been done, to look to the past to observe and understand the similarities. This study hopefully should provide clues on what mistakes not to make, and defines the path to move forward.

The European Condition

PoliTact had projected in the last year’s forecast that a new era of western intervention was on the way. This, however, was already happening in one form or the other, as part of the campaigns against terror and the removal of rogue tyrants. A more dangerous development was the European economic recession accompanied by resurgence in nationalist fervor, which did not reflect well on the future of European Union. History tells us, anemic fiscal conditions accompanied by resurgence of nationalism, can be a combustible mixture.

The alarm is this situation will cause the European powers to compete with each other, and shift the tensions to other regions of the world, where their interests are paramount, like the energy rich Middle East. Furthermore, the focus will inadvertently also be on the downtrodden places, from where the fodder for future resistance is likely to come from.

New Era of European Intervention

In this context, a dangerous phase was unfolding when France arrived in Mali at the beginning of the year to conduct counter terror activity. PoliTact pointed out at the time that this move will likely be matched by other aspiring European powers, in hopes of protecting and establishing their own zones of influence. And, the extremists, or the future resistance fighters, in turn will exploit the French present even further.

On April 29th, UK based think tank that deals with defense and security affairs, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), presented a ‘Return to East of Suez’ policy brief. The paper suggests that Britain is considering placing its land, sea, and air forces across the Middle East, for touch and go type operations that increasingly look likely. The report adds that Arab awakening, the situation of Iran and Syria, has made the Middle East highly volatile and Britain is preparing policy options on how to respond.

According to the report, the potential missions could be in support of the American and NATO operations, but could be taken independently as well. And, it goes on to ease European worries that Britain is looking to operate outside of European security arrangements. In a larger framework, while US is pivoting to the Pacific, UK is pivoting back to the Middle East. Whether this is a coordinated move is not known yet, nonetheless, it would likely involve reaction from other emerging and established global powers.

What Does This Mean For Pakistan, India?

But how does this relate to the present-day Pakistan and India, both nuclear powers now, with India aspiring for a seat on the Security Council and a member of BRICS.

While there is no world war going on, the struggle against terror is being conducted in many nations and with many allies. Although there have been successes, the conflict is not over by any standard. It is now fully embedded with the tussles related to the shift in global balance of power, as being witnessed in the case of Syria. The Al Qaeda linked Jabahat al Nusra may be getting support from some Gulf nations, while on the other hand, Hezbollah is backed by Iran, and then there is the western and Arab supported Free Syrian Army (FSA).

How the dynamics of Syria unfolds will provide clues to the next phase of the campaign against terror. In the AfPak region, Afghan Taliban are allegedly supported by Pakistan, and there is growing evidence suggesting some TTP factions may be in bed with the Afghan government, including other foreign elements. And, then there are the India oriented jihadists.

The present stage looks like a phase in which the shape of alliances is confusing and opposing sides are not clear. The British pivot to the Middle East, when and if it occurs, will help to bring some clarity to this. What this means is that a much more serious and bloody episode is likely to follow, if the present trajectory continues.

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