Thursday, 20 August 2009

Hizb ut Tahrir Pakistan – The British Dimension

Noman Hanif

On the 5th of July, 2009, the British media indicated for the first time the extent to which British intelligence may have penetrated the local and Pakistani branch of the Islamic party Hizb ut Tahrir or Liberation Party including an insight as to why the UK political establishment may have resisted enormous pressure for its proscription. Nicola Smith’s article in the Sunday Times entitled ‘British Islamists Plot against Pakistan’ suggested that British members of HT had been operating throughout Pakistan’s institutional set up and especially the army in order to foment a bloodless coup geared towards bring about an Islamic Caliphate. Although Smith’s article provides little in terms of new understandings concerning HT’s ideology or its methodological recourse to the levers of power, it is the nature of the information provided in the article and its timing which raises the most important questions. Smith’s article for the first time identifies Imtiaz Malik as the key personality in Pakistan and departs from the conventional analysis of media representative Naveed Butt as being the central leadership. If so, then knowledge of Imtiaz Malik would have been known to British intelligence and to the media for some time considering their relationship with HT defector Maajid Nawaz whose counter extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, has full financial and political backing from the UK foreign office. With Nawaz’s open endorsement of his relationship with the British government, it would be safe to assume that his cooperation fully extends to the intelligence services. Maajid Nawaaz was privy to the HT set up in Pakistan and HTB’s relationship with it having been a member its leadership committee in the UK and part of the team which travelled and emigrated to Pakistan in order to assist HT operations in the country. Smith’s assertion that; ‘HT is believed to have been set up in Pakistan in the early 1990s by Imtiaz Malik’ and that in ‘1999 a call was sent to British Hizb ut-Tahrir members to move to Pakistan’ which ‘prompted the movement of some of the UK’s “top quality” activists to south Asia’ clearly seems to have been sourced from Maajid Nawaz who is also quoted in the article claiming that the global leadership of HT had ignored Pakistan until it announced itself as a nuclear power. The crunch point however in Smith’s article was the revelation by an ‘insider’ that in 2003, four army officers were arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of being linked to extremist groups, although the groups and men have not been named. The ‘insider’ claims they were recruited by the organization’s “Pakistan team” whilst training at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst (RMAS), UK. If this information is reliable then it seems to have been gleaned separately from Maajid Nawaz who had left Pakistan by this time and who allegedly was imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities during this period. Bearing in mind the hierarchical and cellular nature of HT’s organizational structure, knowledge of such a secretive team would only be known to its leadership in either Pakistan or the UK. The fact that the alleged arrests of the Pakistani army officers trained at RMAS have never been acknowledged nor publicized by the Pakistani authorities is also suggestive that the UK intelligence may have had a role in deliberately leaking this information through Smith’s article. This is reinforced by the timely nature of the article as it coincidentally follows a trip to Pakistan by Maajid Nawaz paid for by the UK foreign office and provided publicity through the government’s media bastion the BBC through its news programme, Newsnight in July, 2009. The question of HT Britain (HTB) being infiltrated by British intelligence has been suspected because of its open door policy towards recruitment in the UK and more poignantly attempts by the HTB leadership to break rank and to reach out to the British government exemplified by its acceptance of an invitation by UK member of Parliament, Claire Short to speak to other Parliamentarians at Westminster in 2007. The open door policy was also extended to journalists who were provided open access to members and to the internal operations of HTB. This suspicion has been further compounded by the continuous refusal by the British Labour party to ban the movement despite the application of aggressive pressure by the opposition Conservative party. What the cases of ex- HTB whistleblowers Shiraz Maher, Ed Hussein and Maajid Nawaz have clearly demonstrated is that British intelligence is likely to have been embedded within the movement for some time. The level of infiltration seems to have been within the senior echelons of HTBs’ leadership exemplified by the fact that it has been confident enough to risk these assets becoming public without fear of losing its influence internally. Therefore, inevitably it would have full knowledge of the British origin members who are alleged to have helped set up and run the HTB originated structure in Pakistan. Maajid Nawaaz’s open declaration of his close association and collaboration with the UK Foreign Office would mean that most if not all of the British Pakistani HTB members sent to Pakistan would have been known to the British intelligence services including Imtiaz Malik at least since 2005. The burning question is why the HT global leadership has not moved to quarantine its leadership in the UK and its members who travelled to Pakistan considering the obvious security risks posed to it.

Copyright Noman Hanif