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2. Blowback or Frame-up in Lancashire?

British police raided a string of addresses on April 8th and 9th in Liverpool, Manchester and Clitheroe (Lancashire) alleging widespread faults in the system of visa allocations for Pakistani students, and claiming that a number of arrests had become necessary in order to uproot a potential terrorist cell. In fact, twelve arrests were made. Eleven involved Pakistani citizens. Bob Quick, the head of Specialist Operations at the Metropolitan Police, became the object of ferocious criticism in the press, because he had carried a top-secret folder under his arm when entering Downing Street. This enabled enthusiastic reporters to take photographs of the summary of the police game-plan, which, it was said, risked compromising the projected operation for the suppression of terrorism. This, therefore, had to be brought slightly forward, apparently to its detriment. The Prime Minister claimed that the police were foiling 'a very big terrorist plot'.

We have seen some of these very big plots before, and they have done something to encourage very big agnosticism about various elements of the war on terror. We shall see how long it takes to charge any of the arrested men, or to release them with or without fulsome apologies, or even compensation for wrongful arrest.

The newspapers cannot be blamed for not knowing how seriously to take police allegations at this stage of their enquiries. It is perfectly possible that all of those detained are wholly or partly guilty, or even completely innocent. But then again, this may not be the reason for the arrests, which certainly revive the jitters among those of a nervous disposition.

We had occasion to warn in Spokesman No. 99, before the remarkable victory of Barack Obama in the American Presidential elections, that the Obama team might, given the chance, authorise an ugly extension of the Afghan war into Pakistan. This was already beginning as a series of illicit raids. We were concerned about the effects of the incursion of Drones into Pakistani airspace, and the increasingly frequent strikes on alleged Pakistani terrorists. Once again, the facts of these cases are veiled in a persistent fog, which includes no small amount of misinformation.

We do not even know whether Osama bin Laden is in fact alive. It would hardly be surprising if all those bombs in all those caves had succeeded in translating him to a different plane of existence. We do know that there are large numbers of Afghans and Pakistanis with substantial grievances against the American and Allied incursions, first in Afghanistan, and now, increasingly, in Pakistan. As we said last year, this is a sinister dimension of the new situation, especially for Gordon Brown. 'For him, Pakistan is not simply a distant country with exotic customs. He has got Pakistan at home as well.' Were the arrests in Lancashire a preliminary recognition of this fact? Or were they a repetition of the dreary recital of scaremongering, false alarms to which we have become increasingly accustomed?

We have already published the most revealing statement by Barack Obama from the Woodrow Wilson Centre, on the 1st August 2007. He promised to 'turn the page'. The first of five elements he promised to confront involved 'getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan'. For emphasis, he promised to take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Is it now to be claimed that the fight will also be taken, beyond Pakistan, to Manchester, Liverpool and Clitheroe?

There are very large numbers of armed men who have been indoctrinated in the arts of 'taking the fight' here, there and everywhere. Where will they be going next? Which other British communities will fall into their remit? How well justified will be their efforts to suppress terrorism, and how many mistakes will be made in the process? These are very worrying questions. If the war is going to Pakistan, there are bound to be citizens in Britain with Pakistani antecedents, who are likely to regard this as a matter of profound concern.

Before the police squads drill, and the intelligence communities marshal their theories, is it not sensible to ask the question, do we really want to conduct a war in Afghanistan or Pakistan? Is it really wise to alienate a substantial part of our population? Prominent Government Ministers sing from a dreary hymn sheet about the need to root out extremists among the immigrant population. Why don't they address the question of what is seeding extremism, and what actions might foster moderation among the unfortunate people who suffer from all these wars and punitive expeditions?

Might not the cessation of terrorist bombing raids on weddings and other civil reunions be a help?

Ken Coates

Postscript: On 21 April, after this editorial was written, nine more of the 12 men arrested earlier in the month were released without charge by police, but immediately taken into the custody of the UK Borders Agency. One man, who had already been released, was similarly treated. The other two men remained in police custody for a further day, before being discharged, one into the custody of the Borders Agency, while the other, a British citizen, was reportedly 'staying at a hotel while police restored his home to the state it was in before extensive searches'.

Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain said: 'It is perfectly understandable that not every arrest the police make will result in charges being brought … that is the nature of this sort of police work. What is unacceptable though is for the Government to make prejudicial remarks right at the outset. And now, now that we learn that actual evidence cannot be gathered to substantiate any terror plot, instead of releasing them with good grace and making clear a mistake has been made, the Government is seeking to deport them, citing a very vague national security threat. That is a very dishonourable way of proceeding.'