Fri, Jul 09, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Britain’s secret affair with radical Islam

Bin Laden, the Taliban, Zawahiri: Britain has done business with them all

By Mark Curtis  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

When the London bombers struck five years ago, many people blamed the invasion of Iraq for inspiring them. However, the connection between 7/7 and British foreign policy goes much deeper. The terrorist threat to Britain is partly “blowback,” resulting from a web of British covert operations with militant Islamist groups stretching back decades. Although terrorism is held up as the country’s biggest security challenge, the government’s collusion with radical Islam is continuing.

Two of the four London bombers were trained in Pakistani camps run by the Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM) terrorist group, which has long been sponsored by Pakistan to fight Indian forces in Kashmir. Britain not only arms and trains Pakistan but in the past provided covert aid benefiting the HUM. There are credible suggestions that Britain facilitated the dispatch of HUM volunteers to fight in Yugoslavia and Kosovo in the 1990s. Earlier, MI6’s covert war in Afghanistan involved the military training of various Islamist groups to counter the Soviet occupation of the country. Many HUM militants were instructed by an insurgent faction that Britain was covertly training and arming with anti-aircraft missiles.

One of that faction’s warlords was Jalalludin Haqqani, who is now the Taliban’s overall military commander fighting the British; his past is not something the UK Ministry of Defence relates to the young soldiers deployed to Helmand province. Another old friend is the Afghan commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, known as a ruthless killer, who was given covert aid and training in the 1980s, and was even received by officials in Whitehall. It was Hekmatyar who Britain backed to conduct secret operations inside the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union.

The further twist is that Britain is now reliant on doing a deal with these forces to secure something more than a humiliating exit from the increasingly brutal war in Afghanistan.

The stakes are exceedingly high — General Sir David Richards, the head of the British army, has said that the “UK’s authority and reputation in the world” are on the line in Afghanistan. He also remarked last week that talks should be held with the Taliban “pretty soon.”

In fact, Whitehall has been desperately trying to do a deal with the Taliban since at least 2004, when it is claimed that Maulana Fazlur Rahman, a radical pro-Taliban cleric in Pakistan, was invited to visit the Foreign Office. Rahman told the Pakistani media that “Britain is holding indirect talks with the Taliban militia to seek an honorable American exit from Afghanistan.”

This dependence on militant Islamists to achieve foreign policy objectives is an echo of the past, when such collusion was aimed at controlling oil resources and overthrowing nationalist governments. The Anglo-American operation in Iran in 1953 to remove the popular government of former Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq, which had nationalized British oil operations, involved plotting with Ayatollah Seyyed Kashani, the founder of the militant fundamentalist group Devotees of Islam. MI6 and the CIA financed demonstrations against Mossadeq, and even discussed installing Kashani — a predecessor of Ayatollah Khomeini — as Iran’s leader after the coup.

The Foreign Office noted that in power Kashani “would conceivably accept Western money,” but viewed him as “a complete political reactionary,” and therefore not reliable as a long-term asset.

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