New British FM seeks deeper ties with Pakistan

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague pledged on Wednesday to deepen strategic relations with Pakistan as he paid his first visit to Islamabad since the new government in London took power.

"We are keen to deepen the UK-Pakistan strategic dialogue," the Conservative politician told a news conference without elaborating.

The previous Labour government said that 75 percent of extremist plots affecting Britain -- which is home to an estimated one million people of Pakistani descent -- have links to Pakistan.

Hague paid tribute to the "enormous sacrifices" made by Pakistan in the widening fight against Islamist militants in the northwest near Afghanistan, where British troops are locked in a war against the Taliban.

"Many thousands of soldiers in Pakistan have lost their lives in battling against violent extremism, and so I think that this must be understood all over the world," he said.

Hague met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and is scheduled to hold talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and speak to business leaders.

Britain has increased development aid to Pakistan to 665 million pounds (992 million dollars) over four years, including 50 million pounds to support stabilisation and reconstruction in conflict-hit areas, Hague said.

Britain is the second largest investor in Pakistan after the United States with two-way trade now worth more than one billion pounds, up 30 percent over the past five years, according to Pakistani data.

© 2010 AFP

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