British PM urges 'fresh start' after Pakistan row

5th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday called for a "fresh start" in relations with Pakistan, promising investment and security cooperation in a bid to overcome a diplomatic row.

Nine months after accusing Islamabad of turning a blind eye to terrorism while in India, the British leader was determined to put ties on a better footing during his first visit to the frontline state in the war on Al-Qaeda.

Although the West has long accused Pakistan of double dealings with Islamist militants, the country has lost more than 4,200 people to bomb and suicide attacks since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

"Let's today make a fresh start in our relationship," Cameron told an audience of university students in Islamabad.

"Let's clear up the misunderstandings of the past, work through the tensions of the present and look together to the opportunities of the future."

During a visit to Pakistan's arch rival India last July, Cameron infuriated many by saying Islamabad could not be allowed to "look both ways", promoting the export of terror while publicly working for stability in the region.

President Asif Ali Zardari met Cameron in London the following month, when both described their ties as "unbreakable" -- a word Cameron used frequently during a news conference on Tuesday with his Pakistani counterpart.

"Terrorism threatens both our countries. Pakistan has suffered great loss and we have no shared higher priority than tackling terrorism," Cameron told a news conference with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Britain's domestic intelligence chief, Jonathan Evans, said last year that 50 percent of serious plots linked to Al-Qaeda in Britain emanated from Pakistan's tribal areas, down from 75 percent two or three years ago.

Officials have attributed the fall to greater action against militants, but also to new threats coming from countries such as Somalia and Yemen.

Tuesday's talks also involved the head of Britain's MI6 spy agency, John Sawers, and its military chief David Richards, as well as Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Kayani and head of intelligence, Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

The two prime ministers agreed to set up a centre to help Pakistani troops better counter roadside bombs, which pose a major threat to British troops in Afghanistan as well as Pakistani security forces fighting local Taliban.

Britain has about 9,500 soldiers serving under the US-led NATO force in Afghanistan, where Cameron wants British troops to start leaving in 2011.

The British leader also sought closer ties in development and trade. He was due to round off his day-long trip with a meeting with Zardari.

In a lone hint of any criticism, Cameron urged cash-strapped Pakistan to broaden its tax base and tackle corruption.

"Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all and that's not fair," he told the students.

Similar appeals have come from the United States and World Bank, keen for Pakistan to get fiscal reforms on track, kick start the economy and help meet the cost of devastating floods last year that affected up to 21 million people.

"We want a strong relationship with a secure, prosperous, open and flourishing Pakistan," the British premier said.

"We want that relationship for the long term. We want to work to strengthen that relationship, now and in the future."

Cameron and Gilani pledged to boost trade from £1.9 billion a year ($3 billion) to £2.5 billion a year by 2015 and Cameron announced £650 million over the next four years to get four million Pakistani children into education.

The money will train 90,000 teachers, buy six million new textbooks and build or refurbish 8,000 schools.

© 2011 AFP

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