Pakistan president attacked over Europe trip after floods
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was in Britain Wednesday amid a row over terrorism, and rising criticism over his failure to return home in the aftermath of the worst floods in living memory.
Zardari, who arrived in Britain Tuesday, will hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron Friday and explain "face to face" Islamabad's anger over Cameron's claim last week that Pakistan promoted the "export of terror".
But Zardari is now under growing pressure to go back to Pakistan and lead the country's response to devastating floods in northwest and central Pakistan which have killed up to 1,500 people affected over three million.
Pakistan is holding an emergency cabinet meeting Wednesday in a bid to speed up relief work following the devastating floods which washed away villages and ruined farmland in one of its poorest and volatile regions.
Imran Khan, the country's former cricket captain turned opposition politician, said Zardari should be in Pakistan following the disaster.
"Any talks can be postponed -- surely the priority should be your own people," he told ITV television. "And then to go on this lavish tour -- this money could be used on the victims.
"Remember Pakistan is bankrupt right now so the government doesn't have enough money, so he should be mobilising people to help these victims of the floods."
Zardari's visit to Europe -- which started in France, where he met President Nicolas Sarkozy and visited his family's rural stately home -- is not due to end after a rally in Britain Saturday when he will reportedly launch the political career of his son, who has been studying at Oxford University.
The trip was labelled a "joy ride" by one flood survivor, and a number of British lawmakers of Pakistani origin have pulled out of a planned lunch with Zardari Thursday.
"For him to spend tens of thousands of pounds on the launch of his son's political career at a time when his country needs him shows that he's out of touch and his advisors are ill-informed," one of them, Lord Nazir Ahmed of the main opposition Labour Party, told AFP.
"Quite frankly, staying in five-star hotels with his huge entourage, tens of big cars that have been hired just to give him this protocol in London, it's quite outrageous."
There was also an angry reception late 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.
Officials have sought to defend the cost of Zardari's trip, issuing a statement insisting he was staying in the "cheapest five-star hotel in London" and was avoiding the royal suite in favour of a "relatively cheaper" one.
Zardari is still expected to meet members of Cameron's government Thursday, thought to include Home Secretary Theresa May, Education Secretary Michael Gove and Minister Without Portfolio Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Britain's first female Muslim cabinet minister.
Cameron has insisted he stands by his highly controversial comments on Pakistan's attitude to violent extremism. He also said Pakistan must not "look both ways" in handling it during a visit to India last week.
Zardari hit back in an interview with French daily Le Monde Tuesday, warning that coalition forces were "losing the war against the Taliban" in Afghanistan and adding: "The war against terrorism must unite us and not oppose us".
Cameron later rejected the idea that international forces in Afghanistan were "losing the battle of hearts and minds" in a BBC radio interview Tuesday.
He also said that Britain's relationship with Afghanistan could "survive speaking frankly about problems".
© 2010 AFP