British PM, in India, sparks 'terror' row with Pakistan

29th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron was mired in a diplomatic row with Islamabad Thursday over comments made on a trade-driven trip to India about the "export of terror" from Pakistan.

Pakistan's ambassador to Britain accused Cameron of "damaging the prospects of regional peace" with his remarks on Wednesday in the southern Indian IT hub of Bangalore.

Asked about regional security issues, the prime minister responded with a warning to India's arch-rival against becoming a haven for militant groups.

"We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country (Pakistan) is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world," he said.

The comments were gleefully splashed on the front page of every major newspaper in India, which has long accused Pakistan of harbouring and abetting extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba -- blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

His remarks also came days after the leak of secret US military documents that detailed links between Pakistan's intelligence services and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

"We should be very, very clear with Pakistan that we want to see a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan," Cameron said.

"It should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror."

Back in London, Pakistani High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan voiced his government's deep disappointment, saying Cameron had chosen to ignore Pakistan's "enormous role" in the war on terror.

"He seems to be more reliant on information based on intelligence leaks, despite it lacking credibility or corroborating proof," said Hasan, writing to The Guardian newspaper.

"A bilateral visit aimed at attracting business could have been conducted without damaging the prospects of regional peace," he added.

There was no immediate comment Thursday from the government in Islamabad.

The issue of South Asian regional security, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, is sure to be raised again when Cameron holds talks Thursday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.

But Cameron will be keen to keep his two-day visit focused on its main purpose: Britain's drive to take bilateral trade and economic ties with the former jewel in its colonial crown to a new level.

As well as his meetings with leaders in New Delhi, he will also attend a summit on expanding economic relations between Britain and India, one of the world's fastest growing economies.

Cameron is heading the largest British delegation to travel to India in recent memory, including a host of senior cabinet ministers and corporate bigwigs.

In a speech in Bangalore, the prime minister stressed the role India can play in helping to boost Britain's fragile post-recession recovery.

"I want this to be a relationship which drives economic growth upwards and drives our unemployment figures downwards," Cameron said. "This is a trade mission, yes, but I prefer to see it as my jobs mission."

In the first of a series of expected deals, BAE Systems said it had finalised the sale of 57 Hawk trainer jets to India -- to be built locally under licence -- in a deal worth 500 million pounds (779 million dollars).

Rolls-Royce will provide the engines for the aircraft for another 200 million pounds.

Cameron highlighted recent investment in Britain made by Indian-run companies such as the carmaker Tata and steel group Arcelor Mittal, but also pushed India to open up its tightly regulated domestic market.

"We want you to reduce the barriers to foreign investment in banking, insurance, defence manufacturing and legal services -- and reap the benefits," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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