The opposition Conservative party led by David Cameron has secured more seats than the ruling Labor party in the UK general elections. The Conservatives won 307 seats, 19 short of the 326 seats required for a majority, with Labor winning 255 and the Liberal Democrats 59. Since no single political party was able to win an outright majority, there would be a hung parliament in Britain for the first time in 36 years. David Cameron succeeded Gordon Brown as the prime minister of Britain. Since the Conservative party didn’t have enough seats for a majority government, they were therefore forced to form a joint government with the Liberal Democrats, which is the country’s third largest party. The agreement allowed Nick Clegg, the leader of Liberal Democrat, to become the country’s deputy prime minister.
This Vantage Point Analysis looks at the impact of UK election on its Af-Pak policy and how this in turn might impact the new US strategy on war against terror, Pakistan and India.
The general elections in the UK come at a time when the country’s economy is in a dire state. The new coalition government will be expected to take action to deal with the record budget deficit. Britain’s economic crisis had dominated the election campaign and each rival party had promised to take effective measures to steer the economy out of recession.
The country’s ailing economy was also the agenda of the first cabinet meeting. Markets will closely monitor how rapidly this new Conservative-led government will implement a plan to deal with the massive 163bn pounds deficit by cutting down public spending, initially by 6bn pounds during the current financial year.
Implications for the war on terror:
There are 10,000 British troops currently deployed in Afghanistan. After the US, Britain is the biggest contributor to the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. With such a large number of British troops committed to this war, Af-Pak will naturally be one of the most important agendas of Britain’s foreign policy. Many people expect the Conservatives to support most aspects of America’s war on terror. Amongst the three political parties in Britain, the Conservative party is the most active in addressing the threats posed to the UK by Islamic extremism, which also has direct consequences for the US national security.
Until recently, all three major political parties in the UK were not in favor of immediate troop withdrawal, despite strong public opinion against the war. However, the new government set up will make it extremely unlikely for a minority government with a hung parliament to ignore the public pressure, thus affecting Britain’s long-term commitment to the war.
Furthermore, as the Liberal Democrats will play a pivotal role in the next government, they are expected to push for an early troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. It should also be remembered that the Liberal party’s manifesto doesn’t even talk about NATO, which clearly indicates how they perceive the Afghan war. Clegg has already signaled that he is uneasy with the rising casualties.
The outcome of these elections will also have important implications for Britain’s national security policy. David Cameron has vowed to outlaw some Islamic organizations operating in Britain, for instance Hizb-ul-Tahrir. In contrast, Nick Clegg is strongly against the war on terror and has pointed the finger at his own country for involvement in the “torture” of suspected terrorists. Neither the Labor party nor the Liberal Democrats see the war on terror as the main concern for Britain. As the Liberals are all set to play a key role in the government, there may be major, unconstructive implications for Britain’s intelligence services and their ability to work together with their American counterparts. Both Cameron and Clegg have indicated that they favor looser ties with America than those enjoyed by Brown and his forerunner, Tony Blair.
The appointment of Sayeeda Warsi as the first British female Muslim Cabinet Minister will go a long way in improving the image of Muslims in UK and Europe. She is also the Conservative party’s chairwoman. PoliTact has previously recommended that Muslims need to be seen in important policy shaping positions in Europe and US. These steps will have a positive impact on countering the blow back of the war on terror on these countries. Such steps also effectively reply to the propaganda campaign being waged by the extremists to recruit members from the Muslim communities of these countries.
Implications for India and Pakistan:
Conservative governments have traditionally been more inclined towards India than Pakistan on sensitive issues like Kashmir. New British Prime Minister David Cameron has openly stated that he wants to work towards establishing a “new special relationship” with India and favors its bid for a permanent presence in the UN Security Council. At the same time, he also wants greater stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In short, Conservative party’s approach to India and Pakistan won’t be much different from the Labor party’s. They will continue to follow American line and persuade both countries to cooperate with each other so that the Pakistani military can focus more on the western border regions. In a recent foreign policy briefing, Britain’s new Foreign Minister Hague took the usual middle path between India and Pakistan. As France, Germany and Russia once again exert their power and influence in Europe, the new British government has little option but to support American foreign policy in the AfPak region and beyond.
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