Tony Blair flew into Pakistan last night on a mission to seek more co-operation from Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, on the war in terrorism in Britain.
Mr Blair announced a doubling in aid from £236m to £480m over the next three years to the Pakistan Government to support "moderate" schools in Pakistan. It is part of a strategy of undermining the hardline madrassas which are alleged to have brainwashed students in extremist forms of Islam and to have provided radical converts for al-Qa'ida operations in Britain.
The Prime Minister is also seeking improvements in intelligence-sharing between MI6 and Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, in spite of suspicions - denied by President Musharraf - that they have sympathies with the Taliban. British sources said it was intelligence from Pakistan that led to arrests and the summer alert over an alleged plot to blow up about 10 airliners bound for the United States from British airports.
One million people in Britain are of Pakistani origin. Two of the suicide bombers who blew themselves up in London on 7 July last year had visited Pakistan shortly beforehand, and a British national, Rashid Rauf, is still held in Pakistan over the alleged airliner plot.
High on Mr Blair's agenda for talks with President Musharraf today will be the need to stop the flow of men and weapons across the leaky border with Afghanistan, where the resurgent Taliban are attacking British forces. There have been 36 British casualties this year, many in the lawless Helmand province, where British forces were deployed to protect reconstruction schemes but have become bogged down in a vicious war with the Taliban.
Senior British officials admitted the accuracy of the assessment by Tom Koenigs, the German diplomat heading the UN mission in Afghanistan, that Nato forces could not win without the backing of Afghan troops. "We have tactically defeated the Taliban, as one Nato general said, but we recognise that there are difficulties. It has to be a combination of military action and reconstruction," said one official with Mr Blair's party.
British commanders have complained of shortages of helicopters and armoured vehicles to protect against roadside bombs and suicide bombers. Mr Blair, determined that Afghanistan does not become a second Iraq, is urgently seeking reinforcements, and Britain will be calling for more support at a Nato conference in Riga. Although 37 nations are contributing to the Afghan force, many have rules of engagement which prevent their deployment in southern Afghanistan and Nato is still awaiting troops for a rapid reaction force there.
In his talks with President Musharraf, Mr Blair is almost certain to raise the question of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qa'ida leader believed to be hiding on the border, but officials made plain he would not be criticising the Pakistani leader in public. When they last met, at Chequers on 28 September, Mr Blair had to apologise privately for a leaked defence report - later dismissed as "research notes" - which said there was still considerable support for the Taliban in the ISI.
"Pakistan is not a banana republic," President Musharraf reportedly told the German magazine Focus last week. "We have an extremely loyal and disciplined army. The secret service is made up mainly of military men."
Mr Blair has little alternative but to accept the assurances of his key ally in the region.Reuse content