A more creative solution to terrorism

By becoming more economically integrated, both Britain and Pakistan’s economies will benefit and both will become more secure

Imaduddin Ahmed

Last week Prime Minister Gordon Brown stressed that 75 per cent of the most serious terror (as the government defines it) plots investigated by the British police and security authorities have links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

One wonders what he intends to do with that information. We certainly are not going to win the war against terror fighting more people who fight to die.

To date, we have spent more than £13 billion on operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan to serve that end. The Commons Defence Committee recommends we spend another £3.7 billion for the Financial Year 2008-09. Yet we are not seeing satisfactory returns to our investment.

The 7/7 London bombings happened AFTER, not before, operations in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Terrorism related fatalities in Pakistan increased from 25 in 2003 to 1479 in 2007 according to the Institute for Conflict Management, and have included the life of Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto. Most recently, the buzzing metropolis of Mumbai ground to a halt as 10 commando-trained terrorists from Pakistan massacred over 170 people in some five days. As Tariq Ali points out, Labour may want to re-look at cause and effect.

A change of strategy is required. We have to make would-be terrorists want to live, and live constructively. Here’s a suggestion: lure them with capitalism.

The story of Ajmal Amir Qasab, the only caught Mumbai murderer, indicates that this strategy may work. Publisher of Pakistan’s The Friday Times Jugnu Mohsin’s ancestral village is but 10 miles from the Faridkot that Qasai hails from. She writes:

“With poverty having driven young Ajmal from his home, he was easy prey for [the] jihadists. He was already on his way as a petty thief when they got him. Life as a jihadist gave Ajmal a livelihood, money for his family (they were able to marry off his sister Ruqaiya), respect [ . . . V]illagers say Ajmal’s cocky gait when he occasionally returned to Faridkot with gifts for his mother was a thing to see. It so tempted the other urchins of the village.”

Mohsin reports Ajmal changed his surname from Qasai to Qasab, “a fancy high Urdu label for butchers”. And in the end, the upwardly mobile Versace T-shirt clad jihadist could not bite the poison pill and do away with the evidence.

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor political science professor Ashutosh Varshney shows in his prize winning book Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life that strong economic integration will help control outbreaks of violence. In a comparison between two cities in India with similar histories, Varshney shows that in Lucknow, where rich Hindus resell the work of skilled Muslim labourers, Hindu-Muslim violence is almost non-existent, whereas in economically segregated Hyderabad, there is a great deal of communal violence. Hindu nationalist politicians who sweep Lucknow’s state assembly seats would hurt themselves economically if they incited violence against Muslims and so temper their divisiveness. Similarly, those who depend on work from Britain for their wages will be the most motivated peace force that Britain will have in Pakistan.

Happily, there is a coincidence of business interests. (Call it Schadenfreude if you must.) According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Britain faces its worst recession since the 1980s. British businesses will have to cut costs or face extinction. That means redundancies. It is a difficult reality to face, but if difficult decisions are not made, more redundancies than are necessary will be made.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has a surplus literate population that is cheap to contract. It is hungry to put its literacy skill into practice and make more money than cleaning floors and selling bread.

Bookkeeping, for example, is work that can readily be outsourced. It requires literacy in English, an ability to categorise and an average concentration span. If businesses can find trusted intermediaries who can assure quality and security, several positive results will be achieved.

British businesses will avoid further redundancies and have better profit-margins, which in turn will mean that they are able to pass on their business to other service sectors in Britain: those who lose their work to Pakistanis will find work in sectors where cheaper but lower-quality Pakistani labour cannot add value.

Meanwhile, government-school educated Pakistanis will have work that makes use of their education and urchins that Ajmal Qasab inspired will be lured by a capitalist, rather than a jihadist, lifestyle. Pakistan ‘s terrorism industry will decline and both Britain and Pakistan, as well as the rest of the world, will be safer.

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