Page last updated at 16:04 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Miliband regrets 'war on terror'

David Miliband
Mr Miliband seeks international co-operation to combat terrorism

The idea of a "war on terror" is a "mistake", putting too much emphasis on military force, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Miliband said the idea had unified disparate "terrorist groups" against the West.

He said the right response to the threat was to champion law and human rights - not subordinate it.

Mr Miliband repeated the views in a speech in Mumbai, India, the scene of attacks by gunmen last year.

Mr Miliband's warning comes five days before the end of US President George Bush's administration, which has led the so-called "war on terror".

The foreign secretary wrote that since 9/11 the phrase "war on terror" had "defined the terrain" when it came to tackling terrorism and that although it had merit, "ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken".

The phrase was first used by President Bush in an address to a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001, in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr Miliband wrote that the phrase was all-encompassing and "gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda" when the situation was far more complex.

Calling for groups to be treated as separate entities with differing motivations, he wrote that it was not a "simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil" and treating them as such was a mistake.

Terrorism is a deadly tactic, not an institution or an ideology
David Miliband
Foreign Secretary

"Historians will judge whether [the notion] has done more harm than good", he said.

The phrase, informally dropped from use by the UK government several years ago, "implied a belief that the correct response to the terrorist threat was primarily a military one - to track down and kill a hardcore of extremists", he wrote.

But the stance he now promoted was international "co-operation".

Highlighting US President-elect Barack Obama's commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, Mr Miliband said it was time to ensure human rights and civil liberties were upheld.

He suggested that the different organisations took advantage of the belief that they had one common enemy and a key way to tackle them was to stop this.

"Terrorism is a deadly tactic, not an institution or an ideology."

Edward Davey, foreign affairs spokesman for the Lib Dems, said: "If the British foreign secretary had said this to President Bush many months, if not years ago, then it would have deserved some credit.

"Mimicking President-elect Obama's lines days before his inauguration does not show leadership."

The Scottish National Party leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, accused Mr Miliband of hypocrisy: "This declaration by David Miliband and the Labour Party is rank hypocrisy. His government acted as a poodle to the Bush doctrine in Iraq and elsewhere.

"People will not be misled by this wishful re-writing of history."

Mr Miliband repeated his views on the "war on terror" in a speech at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, in Mumbai, India. The hotel was among several sites attacked by gunmen in the city last November.

He is in the country in an attempt to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan over the attacks which killed at least 173 people.

Mr Miliband urged Pakistan's government to take "urgent and effective action to break up terror networks on its soil" and called for a resolution of the dispute over Kashmir.

His remarks irritated the Indian foreign ministry which issued a tersely worded statement saying the foreign secretary "is entitled to his views, which are clearly his own and are evolving".

"However, we do not need unsolicited advice on internal issues in India like Jammu and Kashmir."

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