The United Kingdom needs to be more forthright on terrorism, particularly on terrorism that “flows across” Pakistan’s borders into Afghanistan and elsewhere, defence secretary Michael Fallon has said, indicating a subtle shift in London on South Asia.
Speaking to Hindustan Times on the eve of a three-day visit to Mumbai and New Delhi from Tuesday, Fallon, one of the senior-most figures in the Theresa May government, said Britain had made it “very clear” to Pakistan that there cannot be any excuse or justification for terrorism.
Fallon’s remarks are significant in the context of Brexit compelling the UK to focus more on major economies such as India, and the grouse in New Delhi that unlike the United States’ contemporary view, India continues to be hyphenated with Pakistan in London’s outlook.
On Washington issuing a strong statement after the September 2016 terror attack on brigade headquarters in Uri, Fallon said the UK did condemn the attack but agreed that “We have to be more forthright on terrorism…we have to call it out for what it is”.
“There is no excuse, justification for terrorism and we make that very clear in Pakistan”, he said and added that his talks in India will also focus “on what more Pakistan needs to do to tackle terrorism that flows across the border into Afghanistan and elsewhere”.
“We have been trying to improve relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan because that is causing real difficulties in Afghanistan, the relationship needs to be improved rapidly. We have made that clear to the new Pakistani chief of army staff. We made it clear to them that they have work to do in the border areas”.
Fallon will be in Mumbai to inspect the guided missile destroyer ‘Chennai’, among other engagements, and in New Delhi for talks with defence minister Arun Jaitley, national security advisor Ajit Doval and Indian military chiefs to further the India-UK Defence and International Security Partnership.
Terrorism will “absolutely” be part of the talks, he said.
Keen to deepen existing links with Indian military and India’s defence industry, Fallon said British companies were now ready to enter arrangements under the Make in India programme, and plan new equipment to benefit militaries and defence industries of both countries.
“We are looking now at a range of different technologies, mainly to protect us against cyber attacks, to develop autonomous systems under water and aviation and to help us develop the next generation of aircraft”, he said.
“One of the reasons for going to Mumbai is we want to harness Indian and British brain power. We need technology now to find us the solutions to our new equipment programmes and the way to do that is to develop cutting edge technologies with Indian brainpower and British experience and expertise together”.
“It is important to look at India in the region and India’s role in the region: increasingly a leadership role as India becomes a military power in the region. We’d be looking to see how we can cooperate in future with our deployments once we have our own aircraft carriers in that ocean”, Fallon added.
On the visa restrictions that may hamper efforts to harness “Indian brain power”, Fallon said he was aware it is an issue and added the Home secretary Amber Rudd was aware of it.
“We need to make more progress on that issue…It is already relaxed for the professionals, already a different threshold of salary. We need to keep looking at that…it’s in our interest too if foreign companies come to Britain, they want to be able to bring in bright Indian graduates. We have to keep looking at that”, he said.
Fallon’s three-day visit is the latest of several ministerial visits to India in recent days and weeks, reflecting the May government’s focus on India in the post-Brexit scenario, particularly to forge a free trade agreement. Chancellor Philip Hammond was in New Delhi last week.
“My view is that as we leave the European Union, we have to work harder with our other allies. And you have seen lot of activity with India now. Our PM’s visit, chancellor’s visit, so we will be intensifying that work and try to deepen the relationship,” Fallon said.