British, Pakistan leaders in terrorism row showdown

6th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Asif Ali Zardari confronts David Cameron in tense talks Friday over the British premier's claims that Pakistan is secretly backing violent extremists while publicly denouncing terrorism.

Relations between the two countries have soured since Cameron lashed out at Pakistan's alleged support for extremism last week, accusing Islamabad of promoting "the export of terror" while looking "both ways".

Tension has been building ahead of the showdown later Friday at Chequers, the prime minister's country retreat northwest of London, with both leaders refusing to back down.

Downing Street confirmed the leaders would discuss fighting terrorism in the wake of Cameron's comments. "The leaders are expected to discuss the threat, review ongoing efforts, and explore what more can be done," said a spokesman.

Zardari has hit back at the allegations of double-dealing, arguing that Pakistanis are often the victims of terrorist attacks on home soil and that Islamabad is committed to fighting militants in the region.

He has vowed to express Islamabad's anger "face to face" when he meets Cameron. For his part, the prime minister has insisted he stands by his comments.

The British leader's criticism sparked fury in Islamabad, especially as it was made on a visit to India, which is Pakistan's arch-rival. The nuclear-armed neighbours have gone to war three times.

The remarks prompted the Pakistani government to summon Britain's high commissioner (ambassador) to Islamabad earlier this week for a dressing down.

Zardari came under enormous pressure to cancel his trip over the controversy, but his office insisted that it gives Pakistan a chance to make its case.

Despite standing by his comments, Cameron has accepted that Pakistanis are often the victims of attacks, including the one that killed Zardari's late wife Benazir Bhutto, the former premier assassinated in Pakistan in 2007.

The leaders are also set to discuss the devastating floods in Pakistan which have killed around 1,500 people and affected more than four million.

Zardari's failure to return home immediately in the aftermath of the disaster has drawn criticism from opposition politicians in Pakistan and lawmakers of Pakistani origin in Britain.

Other issues on the agenda include the war in Afghanistan and how to boost trade between Britain and Pakistan.

The two leaders met for the first time Thursday since the row erupted over Cameron's criticism, getting together for dinner at Chequers for what sources said would be an informal celebration of Benazir Bhutto.

© 2010 AFP

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