LONDON — The so called Af-Pak summit is over. President Obama hosted Pakistan's President Ali Asif Zardari and Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai this week for discussions on securing their border and rolling back Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Not a lot of news happened when the three leaders had their meeting, so if you live in America you may not have been checking your RSS feeds for the latest update. It's possible that if you live in Afghanistan you weren't aware of what was happening at all. But in Pakistan people were definitely paying attention. People were also paying attention around Britain in the cities where Britons of Pakistani origin live — London, Birmingham, Glasgow and the old industrial centers of northern England. What happens in the mother country and American policy toward Pakistan has a profound effect on their lives.
Britain is home to the second largest community in the Pakistani diaspora (the largest is in Saudi Arabia where immigrants from Pakistan do the heavy lifting and dirty jobs of the Royal Kingdom). More than a million people of Pakistani origin live in Britain but that number does not begin to tell the story of the close ties between the immigrant community and the mother country. According to Britain's Home Office, a quarter of a million Pakistanis come to Britain every year to study or do business, at the same time 350,000 British Pakistanis return to the mother country to visit family. Then there is fact that the community is constantly refreshed by recent arrivals. Six out of 10 British Pakistanis take a spouse from Pakistan.
With contacts this close it's no surprise that as the three presidents prepared to meet Britain's local government, representatives of Pakistani origin were gathering at the House of Lords to agree on a resolution stating their views of the crisis. The statement took all sides to task: the Taliban for its attacks on women, the Pakistani government for being not firm enough in its pursuit of terrorists and the U.S. for its drone attacks on targets in the Northwest provinces.
The councillors met under the auspices of Lord Ahmed, the first Muslim member of the Lords. Ahmed was also critical of the U.N. He pointed to places with huge refugee problems like Darfur and Somalia that receive large amounts of U.N. aid. Then wondered why the U.N. does nothing for Pakistan. "There are 3 million Afghans now living in Pakistan. They brought with them violence. Where is the U.N.'s help for Pakistan to deal with these millions of people. Be fair."
He acknowledges there is a deep skepticism about the Obama Administration's increasingly negative comments about imminent catastrophe for Pakistan. "Look, some people are deeply concerned about the state of the country. But many think it is propaganda because of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. It is hysteria whipped up by India, Israel and the U.S. to roll back Pakistan's nuclear weapons."
Lord Ahmed's view is echoed by Dr. Farzana Shaikh, of the Chatham House think tank. "The Pakistani diaspora in Britain has no reason not to share the views of people in the mother country," according to Shaikh. "There is a convergence of opinion. Pakistanis are deeply ambivalent about how real the threat from the Taliban is. That view is shared by British Pakistanis."
Shaikh's own views on the way forward for the Obama administration are pragmatic. Its options are limited. It can encourage Zardari to use whatever force is necessary to take on the militants. It can provide leadership in the international to take measures to prevent the collapse of the state. What the Obama administration cannot do, "is get involved in direct intervention. That would be a catastrophe."
It would also put enormous pressure on Britain. The British Pakistani community is by far the poorest immigrant group in the country. There is a high unemployment rate among young men and it is a very conservative group in terms of its practice of Islam. A ratcheting up of military activity by American forces in Pakistan is more likely to provoke unrest or terrorism in this country than in the U.S.
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