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Former British PM Gordon Brown says Pakistan is 'epicentre of terrorism'

The former British prime minister writes in his memoir that Pakistan “remains weak and at the epicentre of terrorism” at a time when the IS and Haqqani Network are mounting attacks in Afghanistan.

world Updated: Nov 11, 2017 20:03 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Britain's former prime minister Gordon Brown speaks at the Bank of England conference “Independence 20 Years On” at the Fishmonger's Hall in London on September 28, 2017.
Britain's former prime minister Gordon Brown speaks at the Bank of England conference “Independence 20 Years On” at the Fishmonger's Hall in London on September 28, 2017. (Reuters)

Memoirs by out-of-office leaders may have limited use given their essentially narcissistic nature, but the latest in this genre by former British prime minister Gordon Brown will gladden hearts in New Delhi - he repeats the line verbatim, that Pakistan is the “epicentre of terrorism”.

As one of the two founders of New Labour - the other being Tony Blair - Brown was at the centre of it all for over a decade, first as chancellor (1997-2007) and then as prime minister (2007-2010). His memoir, My Life, Our Times, was out this week to mixed reviews.

Brown’s experience of being treated by Indian-origin eye surgeon Hector Chawla figures prominently in it, so does his uneasy relationship with Blair, his handling of the 2008 financial crisis, and his rather belated discovery that Britain was misled into the 2003 Iraq war.

Pakistan figures in his account of the days immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks, the challenges he faced in Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan as prime minister, and his contemporary assessment of the situation in the troubled country.

“As I write, the Taliban controls half of Afghanistan and, according to claims from American military intelligence, it is now being armed by Russia. Although massively weakened by drone attacks, al-Qaeda still hides in the mountains,” he writes.

“Two ISIS groups and the Haqqani Network are now mounting regular bombings and attacks. Pakistan remains weak and at the epicentre of terrorism. The reflex response is as before – Washington sending in more troops.

“But if we did not succeed with 150,000 men and women under more favourable conditions than we now face, it is right to ask how much can be achieved today with a fraction of that number.”

In Brown’s accounts of previous times, the “epicentre of terrorism” referred to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but his more recent assessment sees Pakistan itself as the “epicentre”.

Brown mentions interacting with former prime minister Manmohan Singh at global forums, particularly in September 2008, when he sought “American buy-in” for his plan for global economic recovery.

He writes: “It was not just monetary and fiscal coordination that the world economy now needed, I said to him (US President George Bush), but also a new World Trade Agreement that would halt the growing resort to protectionism, which had killed hopes of a strong world recovery in the 1930s.

“The lengthy round of trade negotiations that had begun in 2001 – the so-called Doha Round – were currently stalled all these years later because of a disagreement between America and India.

“I informed him of assurances I had sought and received from Prime Minister Singh: India was prepared to move from its entrenched position that it would cut off food imports if they rose unacceptably high.

“But when (Bush) called his trade adviser into the meeting it became clear to me that even if we could do a deal with India, America was still reluctant to move forward. His adviser was more worried about jobs lost because of cotton imports to America than jobs gained from food exports to India.”

First elected to the House of Commons in 1983, Brown acknowledges the support of industrialist Swraj Paul, among others, in his work at the time as member of the shadow trade and industry team of then Labour leader John Smith.

For one who dabbled in journalism as a student in Scotland, the memoir is eminently readable, but reminded many of Enoch Powell’s famous quote: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” This is as true in Brown’s case, as in any other.

For all his brilliance as the chancellor and other achievements, Brown remains better known as one who led Labour to electoral defeat in 2010, ending the party’s record run in power since 1997.