David Cameron's recent trips to Turkey and India have been a failure: he got it wrong. In Ankara he whitewashed the increasingly Islamist regime led by Recip Erdogan while branding Gaza a "prison camp." Later, in India, Cameron accused Pakistan of promoting and exporting terrorism.

Both trips reveal a misunderstanding of how to engage the audiences he hoped to reach. Cameron embraced Tukey's ideologues while pushing away Pakistan's pragmatists.

Turkey has long been the most avowedly secular Muslim country. Poised on the peripheries of Europe – and keen to join its club – it has traditionally enjoyed good relations with Israel. Indeed, even before the birth of the modern Jewish State, Turkey welcomed Jews fleeing Nazism, providing Erich Auerbach with an opportunity to write his seminal work Mimesis. Meanwhile, Turkey has been relatively immune from the global convulsions of radical Islam.

Not so under Erdgoan. In 2005, an editorial in the Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet, said the following about Erdogan and his party, the AKP:

This is a friendly warning. […] The ruling AKP government is following a very wrong and dangerous path. They [the AKP] are in an overall offensive against [our] secular Republic. They used to say, "We respect the Law." Then, when they were displeased with the law in Turkey, they carried it to the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR]. When they did not like the results of the Leyla Sahin case, they defied the ECHR and the law.

Another columnist for Hurriyet, Tufan Turenc, argued:

From the first day [of their rule,] the AKP government wanted to take over the universities and change these institutions of knowledge to conform to their own view of the world. The goal was to turn the Republic's [state] universities into madrassas.

Erdogan has ensured that the "sick man of Europe" is no longer in remission. It is curious, then, that David Cameron should have whitewashed his regime. Rather than speak to the Turkish people, the majority of whom are committed to the state's secular nature, Cameron elected instead to bolster their Islamist leader.

Later, in India, Cameron once again got his message wrong. There is little doubt that Pakistan is playing a double-game, looking both ways in the War on Terror. Cameron's mistake, again, was in his choice of messaging.

Pakistan's government is not ideologically Islamist. Its leaders, and those who succeed in the Army, are unmoved by Islamist demands. In 2007 the Army went so far as to storm a radical seminary, the Red Mosque, in the heart of Islamabad. Officers are promoted as much on merit as their ability to hold their whisky.

Why, then, does Pakistan look both ways?

Fears about India and its regional dominance are pervasive; it is hard to understate this. Since the fall of the Taliban, Indian influence in Afghanistan has grown exponentially, accentuating fears in Islamabad of encirclement.

Conventionally, of course, Pakistan would be unable to resist an armed conflict with India. Its greatest buffer, however, is the threat of unleashing waves of jihadist groups against which India would struggle to defend itself.

Domestically, too, Pakistan considers Britain and America unreliable allies. Having enjoyed Western support during the campaign against the Soviet Union, many in Pakistan's Army and government feel betrayed by the relative lack of post-war support. Instead, they insist, it was they who were forced to deal with the unruly Taliban across the Durand line. Then, after 9/11, when America promised greater support, Pakistan was again left in the lurch when resources were diverted to the War in Iraq in 2003.

These dual fears – of India's regional power and the West's lack of sticking power – mean Pakistan is reluctant to entirely discard the Taliban. Pakistan's dealings with the Taliban are pragmatic, rather than principled. Assuaging its fears will fatally undermine any lingering support for the Taliban and sway Pakistan in favour of the West.

Tilting the balance of power back in our favor will require a more nuanced understanding in the future of his audience and their sympathies.

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Related Topics:  Pakistan, United Kingdom
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