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3rd Dec 2020

EU-Pakistan summit to focus on counter-terrorism

  • EU co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove says Pakistan poses a serious terrorism threat (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The first ever EU-Pakistan summit next month will be mainly aimed at helping the government in Islamabad fight the Islamist networks that staged the Mumbai attacks last year and also pose a threat to Europe, the bloc's counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, said on Monday (11 May).

The post of counter-terrorism co-ordinator was created in 2004 after the Madrid bombings and aims at ensuring that member states apply the EU strategy in this field.

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"The security threat posed by Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe is obvious. We had many cases in the recent past where either Pakistanis were coming to Europe or young EU citizens were going to Pakistan for training and being brainwashed in madrassas (religious schools)," Mr de Kerchove said at a conference about EU's counter-terrorism policies organised by Security and Defence Agenda, a Brussels-based think tank.

In its latest report published last month, the EU's police co-operation agency, Europol, highlighted the increased threat posed by the Afghan-Pakistani region.

"Afghanistan and Pakistan seem to have replaced Iraq as preferred destinations for volunteers wishing to engage in armed conflicts," the report states.

Apart from the Taliban, which is closely connected to the insurgency in Afghanistan, the more dangerous organisation in Pakistan was the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) group that staged last year's series of bombing and shooting attacks in Mumbai on hotels and other public targets and that maintains close ties to Al Qaeda, training volunteers for the Jihad, according to the report.

The recruits pose a threat not only to European troops deployed in Afghanistan, the report shows, but also for EU cities upon their return – like the members of the Belgian cell who were accused of attempting to stage a bombing attack in Brussels last December.

In Spain, police arrested 14 individuals of Pakistani and Indian citizenship in January 2008 for allegedly planning to carry out suicide bomb attacks in Barcelona and other European cities.

The US director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, said in February that "the primary threat from Europe-based extremists stems from Al Qaeda and Sunni affiliates who return from training in Pakistan to conduct attacks in Europe or the United States."

Pakistani government opens up

Unlike three years ago, when the Pakistani authorities were dismissive of any EU help, the government in Islamabad is now open to Europe's assistance in counter-terrorism.

"When my predecessor went to Pakistan two-three years ago, he couldn't meet the relevant people and was only asked to add one organisation to the list of EU terrorist organisations and to get more access to Pakistani textiles on the EU market," Mr de Kerchove said.

Last month, EU commissioner for external relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner announced a boost in financial aid to Pakistan of €50 million a year and mainly aimed at helping the government with combating militant extremism.

Most of the EU assistance, in Mr de Kerchove's view, would go into helping the Pakistanis shift from a military approach in dealing with terrorism to a police and law enforcement one. Better governance and a functional judiciary were also very important, the EU co-ordinator stressed.

"Most of the terrorists arrested last year – if not all of them – have been released because the police were unable to collect the right evidence," he said, adding that the EU could help them in training police forces on how to collect evidence and better co-ordinate with other state actors.

Orienting development funding into justice and home affairs projects could also be of help, he said.

"Development is a precondition for security and vice versa. I was told in Pakistan why the Taliban are so attractive – it's because they provide quick justice, while the state is unable to do so," he pointed out.

The summit, which is set to take place next month – with 17 June being earmarked as provisional date, would only "encourage momentum in the field of counter-terrorism," Mr de Kerchove said.

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