British PM, in India, sparks 'terror' row with Pakistan

29th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron was mired in a diplomatic row with Islamabad Thursday over comments made on a trade-driven trip to India about the "export of terror" from Pakistan.

Pakistan's ambassador to Britain accused Cameron of "damaging the prospects of regional peace" with his remarks on Wednesday in the southern Indian IT hub of Bangalore.

The foreign ministry in Islamabad reminded the British premier of Pakistan's sacrifices in the fight against terror, adding that militant networks, "as the UK knows full well", know no borders.

Cameron's trip to India was meant to showcase his new foreign policy based on commercial interests, but the minefield of India-Pakistan relations and regional security risked overshadowing his pitch for investment and open trade.

Asked about unrest in South Asia on Wednesday, Cameron responded with a warning to Pakistan against becoming a haven for militant groups or giving them support to strike targets in India or Afghanistan.

"We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country (Pakistan) is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world," he said.

His remarks came days after the leak of secret US military documents that detailed alleged links between Pakistan's intelligence services and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

They were splashed on the front page of every major newspaper in India, which has long accused Pakistan of harbouring and abetting extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba -- blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

"We should be very, very clear with Pakistan that we want to see a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan," Cameron said. "It should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror."

In London, Pakistani High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan voiced his government's deep disappointment, saying Cameron had chosen to ignore Pakistan's "enormous role" in the war on terror.

"He seems to be more reliant on information based on intelligence leaks, despite it lacking credibility or corroborating proof," said Hasan, writing to The Guardian newspaper.

"A bilateral visit aimed at attracting business could have been conducted without damaging the prospects of regional peace," he added.

In Islamabad, foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said; "Terrorists have no religion, no humanity, no specific ethnicity or geography.

"Terrorists' networks, as the UK knows full well, mutate and operate in different regions and cities."

The issue of South Asian regional security, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, is sure to be raised again when Cameron holds talks Thursday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.

But Cameron will be keen to keep his two-day visit focused on its main purpose: Britain's drive to take bilateral trade and economic ties with the former jewel in its colonial crown to a new level.

As well as his meetings with leaders in New Delhi, he will also attend a summit on expanding economic relations between Britain and India, one of the world's fastest growing economies.

In the first of a series of expected deals, BAE Systems said Wednesday it had finalised the sale of 57 Hawk trainer jets to India -- to be built locally under licence -- in a deal worth 500 million pounds (779 million dollars).

Rolls-Royce will provide the engines for the aircraft for another 200 million pounds.

Cameron is heading the largest British delegation to travel to India in recent memory, including a host of senior cabinet ministers and corporate bigwigs.

During a trip to India in January 2009, then British foreign minister David Miliband also ignited a diplomatic furore when he linked the 2008 Mumbai attacks to the unresolved dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

These comments upset India, which fiercely resists any outside interference in its dispute over the Himalayan territory. One leading Indian politician labelled the Miliband visit afterwards a "disaster".

© 2010 AFP

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