Pakistan leader to tackle terror claims in Britain head-on
The diplomatic row over Britain's accusation that Pakistan supports terrorism intensified Wednesday as President Asif Ali Zardari arrived in London with a vow to tackle the charges head-on.
Zardari -- also under fire for continuing a European trip despite deadly floods at home -- flew into Britain late Tuesday after saying he would explain Islamabad's anger "face to face" following the British premier's accusation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who triggered the dispute by suggesting elements in Pakistan back the "export of terror", insisted he stood by his comments.
The Pakistani leader was also criticised for claiming in an interview that the international community is "losing" the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"The war against terrorism must unite us and not oppose us," Zardari told Le Monde newspaper after meeting French leaders in Paris ahead of his visit to Britain.
"I will explain face to face that it is my country that is paying the highest price in human life for this war," he said.
But hours before Zardari's arrival in London, Cameron stood by the comments he made during a visit to India last week. "I gave a pretty clear and frank answer to a clear and frank question," he told BBC radio.
"I don't regret that at all," he said, adding: "We have to work with them to close down the terror networks that are in Pakistan that... have threatened innocent people all over the world."
Zardari has insisted Islamabad is committed to fighting militants in the region, including in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have waged a fierce insurgency since the US-led invasion drove them from power in 2001.
He faced US criticism however for claiming that the Taliban are winning.
"The international community, to which Pakistan belongs, is losing the war against the Taliban. This is above all because we have lost the battle to win hearts and minds," he told Le Monde.
"I think they have no chance of regaining power, but their grip is strengthening," Zardari said of the hardline Islamist movement.
US President Barack Obama's office dismissed the comments. "I don't think that the president would agree with President Zardari's conclusions that the war is lost," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Relations between London and Islamabad soured after Cameron said last week that Britain "cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that (Pakistan) is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror."
Britain is the second largest troop contributor to a NATO force in Afghanistan which faces daily attacks from Taliban fighters who intelligence analysts say draw operational support and funding from Pakistani agents.
The Pakistani leader is due to meet Cameron at the prime minister's rural retreat on Friday, despite some calls for him to cancel the visit in protest at the terror claims.
However, Zardari's office argued that the trip gives Pakistan a chance to make its case, according to a statement on Monday.
Some British parliamentarians of Pakistani origin pulled out of a planned lunch Thursday with Zardari, saying he should be back home tackling the flood disaster that has affected some 3.2 million of Pakistan's people.
"I'm not going to meet with the president because I believe that a head of state needs to be in his country of origin when there's a state of emergency," Lord Nazir Ahmed told AFP.
"He's out of touch and his advisors are ill-informed."
There was an angry reception Tuesday for Zardari when he arrived at his hotel in central London, where protesters accused him of wasting money on the visit that would be better spent helping those affected by the floods.
"Thousands of people are dying because of the flooding in Pakistan and millions of people are homeless," said Kashif Haroon, protesting on behalf of the Pakistani opposition politician and ex-cricketer, Imran Khan.
"We need each penny to help those people, while Zardari is spending millions of taxpayers' money enjoying a lavish life and spending money on holidays."
© 2010 AFP