British PM urges 'fresh start' after Pakistan row
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday called for a "fresh start" in fraught ties with Pakistan, promising investment, aid and security cooperation but also pressing the country to claim more taxes from its rich.
Nine months after accusing Islamabad of turning a blind eye to terrorism while in India, the British leader sought to put relations on a better footing during his first visit to the frontline state in the war on Al-Qaeda.
But in comments targeted at Pakistan's elite, Cameron said it was hard to sell increases in British aid while many among the impoverished nation's wealthy citizens failed to pay tax.
"Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all and that's not fair," he told the students.
He pointed out that Pakistan spends "only 1.5% of its GDP on education" but is home to "one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world."
"My job is made more difficult when people in Britain look at Pakistan, a country that receives millions of pounds of our aid money, and see weaknesses in terms of government capacity and waste," he said.
Cameron moved to draw a line under the row sparked during a visit to Pakistan's arch rival India last July, when he said Islamabad could not be allowed to "look both ways", promoting the export of terror while publicly working for stability in the region.
"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."
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.
President Asif Ali Zardari met Cameron in London a month after his comments in India infuriated many in Islamabad and 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.
Gilani stressed his country's commitment to the anti-terror fight, saying: "I want to assure you through the media that Pakistan has the resolve and has the commitment to fight against extremism and terrorism."
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 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.
Cameron and Gilani agreed to set up a centre to help Pakistan better counter roadside bombs, which pose a major threat to Britain's 9,500 troops in Afghanistan as well as Pakistani security forces fighting local Taliban.
Based in Risalpur near the northwestern city of Peshawar, the centre will provide training in detection, forensic investigation and bomb disposal.
The British leader also sought closer ties in other areas, pledging to boost bilateral trade from £1.9 billion a year ($3 billion) to £2.5 billion a year by 2015, and announcing up to £650 million over four years for education.
The aid money will help four million Pakistani children go to school through providing training for 90,000 teachers and six million new textbooks.
Cameron's appeal for a tighter tax regime in Islamabad, echoes those 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," Cameron said, before finish his trip with a bilateral meeting with Zardari.
© 2011 AFP