Pakistani president faces terror row in Britain

3rd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron defended Tuesday a warning about Pakistani support for terror, as President Asif Ali Zardari arrived in Britain vowing to confront the charges head-on.

Zardari -- also under fire for continuing a European trip despite deadly floods at home -- said he would explain Islamabad's anger "face to face" after Cameron suggested elements in Pakistan backed "the export of terror."

The Pakistani leader was also criticised for claiming 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 French newspaper Le Monde, after he met French leaders before starting his visit to Britain, where he will meet Cameron on Friday.

"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.

But he faced US criticism 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, despite some calls in both countries for him to cancel the visit in protest.

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 sorting out the country's flood disaster that has affected about 3.2 million 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."

In contrast to the tensions surrounding his forthcoming visit to Britain, Zardari's visit to France appeared free of controversy.

After talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace on Monday, the Pakistani leader vaunted Islamabad's relationship with France.

"France feels that Pakistan is a responsible partner with them in the world," Zardari told reporters, adding that Sarkozy had said he would visit Pakistan later in the year.

© 2010 AFP

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