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Why the UK-India alliance holds the key to countering global terrorism

Why the UK-India alliance holds the key to countering global terrorism

Terrorism and violent extremism, a scourge that has devastated the lives of victims across the world, continues to rear its head in both Britain and India. As close strategic partners with robust ties it is entirely appropriate for London and Delhi to cooperate with one another to defeat extremism.

The seriousness of the threat to Britain especially is underscored by learnings from Britain’s recently published ‘Integrated Review Refresh’ (IR23), which analyses strategic threats in an increasingly contested world. Furthermore, in a recently published review of ‘Prevent’, the British counter-extremism strategy, Lord William Shawcross CVO flagged the shortcomings of UK counterterrorism strategy, as government funds are being diverted towards programs that have nothing to do with counterextremism, or even actively funding groups with extremist sympathies.

Blurring boundaries

The IR23 is focused on combating the challenges that Britain faces from both state and non-state actors in a world that is rapidly changing. In an acknowledgement of the rise of state-sponsored terrorism, the Review says that the lines between terrorism and state threats is increasingly blurred.

It calls for an integrated response, that is different government security and foreign policy departments will work together rather than individually for maximum deterrence. It announced that British Counter Terrorism Strategy will focus more on combating terror financing, clamping down on financial transactions by extremist groups. This includes an upcoming new Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill which will make it harder for the terrorists to abuse the UK’s financial system.

The Review also calls for a renewed focus on ‘self-initiated terrorists’ – extremists who are inspired by radical ideologies but not actively part of a terror group as such. This reflects a measured approach to counterterrorism that focuses on policing financial transactions among extremists and their state funding, as well as extremist use of information technology networks.

Countering terror financing

It was fitting therefore that Foreign Secretary James Cleverley’s first visit to India under PM Sunak in October 2022 was to discuss countering terrorist funding and use of technology, reflecting the policy shift now formally announced in the Integrated Review.

Starving extremist groups of funds is a robust strategic response which enables states countries like India and Britain to efficiently counter extremism. They use the rules of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, to squeeze state sponsors of terrorism out of the international financial transactions system.

Cleverly’s visit also reflects the stronger focus on the Indo-Pacific in British foreign policy going forward, as India is a critical partner in the region (the 2030 Roadmap for UK-India relations is mentioned in the Integrated Review). Britain and India both pushed for Pakistan to face financial restrictions at the FATF in recent years, with the potential for it to be blacklisted by the FATF in future. This is an example of how the UK is combating the blurring between state and non-state threats.

As the Integrated Review points out, transnational threats require collaboration with global partners. India with decades of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism experience is a natural partner for the UK. It is also situated near Afghanistan, an area where the Review points out that terrorism and organised crime could see a resurgence following the Taliban takeover. No country could better contain the terrorist spill-over (which also threatens Britain) than India.


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Prevent upgrading

Lord Shawcross’ report on Prevent is comprehensive, detailed and pulls no punches. It is honest about the strategic threat that Britain faces now, and in the years to come. Prevent is the British strategy to protect vulnerable individuals from radicalisation, to put radicalised individuals (the self-initiated terrorists mentioned in the Integrated Review) into programs to de-radicalise them and to keep the public safe from potential violent extremist attack. It is an integrated, soft power led early intervention program that aims to involve as much of society as possible in identifying those in danger of radicalisation by extremist ideologies.

Shawcross points out that notably, 80 per cent of radicalisation cases being investigated in the UK by counterterrorism police are Islamist in origin, with only 10 per cent being far right in origin. Now, as the murder of Jo Cox MP in 2016, and an attack on worshippers at a mosque in Finsbury Park in 2017 demonstrates, the far right is not a threat to be taken lightly.


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Nonetheless, it is striking that there is such a lopsided distribution of extremists. The report correctly points out that far right extremism is quite broad in scope, whereas the larger Islamist threat does not get adequate public scrutiny. Perhaps this may be due to the fear among the Prevent team of being labelled racist according to the report.

What is also striking in the report is how Islamist terrorism and Khalistani radicalism are beginning to emerge as serious mutual threats to both the United Kingdom and India. There is also growing concern over emerging blasphemy laws and movements in the UK, as well as the increasingly strident rhetoric about Kashmir coming out of Pakistan.

The points made by the report, critiquing a system that appeared to be overly focused on the far right, and not enough on Islamist extremism, appear to point the way in the right direction according to some counter extremism organisations. Hannah Stuart, Director of the Counter Extremism Group, a specialist British counter extremism think tank which advises the UK government, remarked that the report showed: “Shawcross rightly calls for a recalibration of Prevent, to better match the nature and scale of the current terrorist threat. This is not about playing ideologies off against one another; it is about ensuring that Prevent is consistent in how it tackles different threats and avoids double standards.”


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Tom Wilson, Research Director at the Counter Extremism Group commented: “More and more people are being referred to Prevent who don’t belong in a counter-terrorism scheme. The ideologies Prevent focuses on look like an inversion of the terror threat the country faces. Prevent has become woefully politicised.

“The research arm of the scheme frames those on the centre-right as radicalisers. It is little wonder then that staff trying to implement Prevent on the ground are rendered clueless about what terrorist ideology is. Meaning that those who really are moving towards terrorism aren’t apprehended.’’

The Sunak government faces many economic and strategic challenges, however amidst all of these it is important that the pivotal goal of protecting the public from violent extremist ideologies is not forgotten. The IR23 and Prevent review highlight the importance of countering extremist funding and ideology, which are best done in concert with allies such as India.


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Jeevan Vipinachandran is a UK-based writer and political analyst specialising in political conflict and counter-terrorism. With a Masters in Comparative Politics: Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics (LSE), his core interest is in international relations with a special focus on the rise of India and its impact on the world stage.

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