Cameron facing rough ride with Zardari

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David Cameron was facing tricky talks this week with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari after the British prime minister's remarks on the export of terror triggered a diplomatic spat.

Zardari's three-day visit later this week is likely to be overshadowed by the fall-out from Cameron's outspoken comments in Pakistan's rival neighbour India last week.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has already pulled out of a visit to discuss counter-terrorism co-operation with British security services in London.

Cameron has come under fire in some British newspapers for a string of perceived diplomatic errors in his first major series of foreign visits, to the United States and India, in recent weeks.

Pakistan's Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said Zardari would "explain the facts" over Cameron's "misperception", insisting that the row should not be allowed to sour relations between the two countries.

"If the prime minister of the UK has said something that is contrary to the facts on the ground, it doesn't mean that we should boycott each other," Kaira said Saturday at a press conference in London.

"The president of Pakistan will explain and have a dialogue and good discussion and he will explain the facts to the new government over here.

"We hope that... when they get the exact picture, they will agree with us."

Zardari is due for talks with Cameron on Friday at Chequers, the prime minister's country retreat.

Pakistan has been under intense scrutiny after leaked secret US military documents detailed alleged links between the ISI and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Kaira rejected any such suggestion.

He said the planned ISI London visit had been postponed "because of their own commitments", adding that the stalled trip was "operational", involving lower-ranking ISI agents.

He said he expected that intelligence co-operation would continue.

"We are quite confident that when we have explained the situation to the new leadership over here, they will of course recognise and realise the sacrifices and actions the government of Pakistan has taken in relation to extremism," he said.

Cameron's comments were made Wednesday in Bangalore, India's southern technology hub.

"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.

David Miliband, the former foreign secretary, said Cameron's early forays into international diplomacy had been a mess.

"Cameron has used the past two weeks to make a verbal splash on foreign policy," the opposition Labour foreign affairs spokesman wrote in The Independent on Sunday newspaper.

"Like a cuttlefish squirting out ink, his words were copious and created a mess.

"Making a splash is not the same as making a difference.

"It would have been better for the prime minister to talk about ways we can support Pakistan."

© 2010 AFP

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