MUMBAI, India — Britain's foreign secretary suggested the U.S.-led war on terror may have "done more harm than good" as he issued a sharp rebuke Thursday to the outgoing Bush administration and it's approach to fighting extremism.
David Miliband's speech at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai was among the first public remarks from a senior British official criticizing how the battle against terrorism has been conducted since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Taj was one of several sites in India's financial hub that was attacked by militants in a November siege that left 164 dead.
Although the early years of the war on terror saw Britain as the most reliable ally of the United States, Miliband sought to turn the page, saying Britain's government "has used neither the idea nor the phrase 'war on terror'" since 2006.
"Ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken," he said. "Historians will judge whether it has done more harm than good. But we need to move on to meet the challenges we face."
Miliband has denied suggestions that he timed his remarks to coincide with President George W. Bush's final days in office.
British opposition Liberal Democrat Party lawmaker Edward Davey said Miliband's criticism of the Bush administration was too little, too late.
"If the British foreign secretary had said this to President Bush many months, if not years ago, then it would have deserved some credit," Davey said Thursday in a statement. "Mimicking President-elect Obama's lines days before his inauguration does not show leadership."
Miliband has sought to align himself with Obama, who will be sworn in Tuesday, and has praised incoming U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her pledges to use a "smart power" mix of military might and diplomacy.
"The new administration has a set of values that fit very well with the values and priorities I am talking about," Miliband was quoted as telling The Guardian.
On Thursday, he restated his commitment to diplomacy and challenged the West to lead by example.
"If we want to promote the politics of consent instead of terror and of democratic opportunity rather than fear and oppression, we must up hold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties both at home and abroad," he said.
"Democracies must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it," he added.
Miliband had met India's prime minister and other senior leaders earlier in the week to discuss the investigation into the Mumbai attacks. Miliband told reporters he agreed with India's claims that the Pakistani-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, carried out the attack.
"When I visit Islamabad later this week, I will underline that there must be zero tolerance for such organizations," he said.
But he made clear that he did not back India's claims that the Pakistani state could have been involved in the attack, allegations that have raised tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Associated Press writers David Stringer in London and Sam Dolnick in New Delhi contributed to this report.