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" while the foreign ministry in Islamabad reminded him of the nation's commitment and sacrifices in the fight against terror.

Cameron's trip to India was meant to showcase his new foreign policy based on commercial interests, but the minefield of India-Pakistan relations and regional security risked overshadowing his pitch for investment and open trade.

Asked about unrest in South Asia on Wednesday, Cameron responded that Pakistan could not be permitted to "look both ways" in promoting the export of terror while publicly working for stability in the region.

On Thursday he sought to clarify his remarks, which were seized on by the Indian media as endorsing New Delhi's view that Pakistan's intelligence agency covertly funds insurgents in India and Afghanistan.

"I don't think the British taxpayer wants me to go around the world saying what people want to hear," Cameron told reporters travelling with him.

"I don't think it's overshadowed anything. I think it's important to speak frankly and clearly about these issues."

Pakistan has been under pressure since earlier this week when leaked secret US military documents detailed alleged links between Pakistan's ISI intelligence services and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

In London, Pakistani High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan voiced his government's deep disappointment over Cameron's comments, saying he 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.

In Islamabad, foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said: "Terrorists have no religion, no humanity, no specific ethnicity or geography.

"Terrorists' networks, as the UK knows full well, mutate and operate in different regions and cities."

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 also attended a summit on expanding economic relations between Britain and India, one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

"We think in areas like banking, insurance and retail, there are further opportunities for openness that could benefit both countries," he told a round-table discussion on Britain-India trade relations in New Delhi.

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 the first of a series of expected deals, BAE Systems 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.

During a trip to India in January 2009, then British foreign minister David Miliband also ignited a diplomatic furore when he linked the 2008 Mumbai attacks to the unresolved dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

The comments upset India, which fiercely resists any outside interference in its dispute over the Himalayan territory. One leading Indian politician labelled the Miliband visit a "disaster".

© 2010 AFP

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