Britain's foreign secretary is calling for democracies to rethink their strategy against extremists, saying the notion of the "war on terror" is misleading and mistaken.

David Miliband said in the Indian city of Mumbai Thursday that the U.S.-led "war on terror" was an attempt to build solidarity by portraying a fight against a single shared enemy.

But, he said, the forces of violent extremism are diverse. Miliband said that by grouping various terrorist organizations together and drawing battle lines as a simple struggle between good and evil, extremists are aided in their effort to unify groups with little in common.

The British foreign secretary said democracies must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it. He called for governments to uphold their commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad.

He pointed to the much-criticized U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying Britain welcomed U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's pledge to close the prison.

Miliband spoke at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, one of several sites attacked by militants in a three-day siege in November. He is the first senior British official to publicly criticize the way the international fight against terrorism has been waged since 2001.

Miliband said that for a couple of years, the British government has used neither the idea nor the phrase "war on terror."  

He said the phrase implies that military action is the correct response to the threat. But, in a comment he attributed to U.S. General David Petraeus, Miliband said militaries cannot kill their way out of an insurgency and civil strife.

The British foreign secretary said terrorist groups instead need to be tackled at the root, by stopping the flow of weapons and financing, and channeling their followers into democratic politics. 

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.