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Counterterrorism takes center stage

EU increasingly recognizes need to help fight terrorism in Pakistan.

A French soldier from the 3rd Infantry Regiment of the Marines trains in the French Alps at Briancon, May 4, 2009 as they prepare for their June mission in Afghanistan as part of multi-national forces in the country. (Jacky Naegelen/Reuters)

BRUSSELS — When the European Union's counterterrorism chief traveled to Pakistan a few years ago, all anyone wanted to talk about was free trade. Now, with a high-level Pakistani delegation in Brussels, those priorities may have changed.

An inaugural EU-Pakistan summit meeting kicks off Wednesday, with both sides showing an increased willingness to work with each other on counterterrorism measures. Though the delegation from Islamabad is to include high-level officials in commerce, finance and trade in addition to interior and foreign affairs, it’s been made clear that this meeting is going to focus on how the EU can help President Asif Ali Zardari fight the Taliban and other insurgents.

That acknowledgement is more significant than it sounds. For the most part, individual member states have handled anti-terrorism policies as part of their own national security strategies. The 27 states each have their own agendas with various foreign partners, which has made national security a difficult area for joint action.

So the EU as a single entity has not had — nor even tried to make — much of an impact in South Asia with regard to security policy, including counterterrorism, even as the threats from the region increased exponentially after the Sept. 11 attacks and the ensuing war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

But there is increasing recognition that counterterrorism must be considered along with the education, trade and anti-corruption programs that have long been funded in Pakistan with EU money.

“The EU needs to do more and to do differently,” said Greg Austin, vice president of the East West Institute. “They’re new partners in the security sense and it’s going to be really interesting to see how the relationship unfolds. It holds some interesting potential.”

What’s different about Pakistan, different even from the large military and reconstruction commitments made in Afghanistan, is Europe’s realization that its own security is dependent on helping the Pakistani government beat back the Taliban. That’s traditionally been a big gap between the United States and Europe but is becoming smaller all the time.

Raffaello Pantucci, a London-based researcher and writer, said the threat-perception gap stems from a “niggling sensation among European publics that we have brought a lot of trouble from South Asia upon ourselves through meddling in the region.”

Pantucci stresses that the situation is far too serious now to view in this way. Recent arrests in Europe prove his point that “groups in Pakistan’s lawless regions (are) providing training, inspiration and in some cases direct operational guidance for plots in Europe.”