Pakistani president confronts terror claim in Britain

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British Prime Minister David Cameron defended Tuesday his warning about Pakistani support for terror, as President Asif Ali Zardari vowed to confront the charges head-on during a visit here.

Zardari said he would explain why Islamabad is angry "face to face" with Cameron after the recently-elected British leader suggested elements in Pakistan backed "the export of terror" to its neighbours Afghanistan and India.

"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.

"Pakistan, of course, is an important ally of the United Kingdom, the relationship is strong and it should go on being strong."

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 2003.

"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.

Relations between London and Islamabad soured after Cameron said last Wednesday: "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country 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 flooding 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.

Before heading to Britain late Tuesday, Zardari met French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for a working lunch expected to address European humanitarian aid in the wake of this week's deadly Pakistani floods.

In his talks with Sarkozy, Zardari "called for massive international assistance" to cope with the floods that have killed up to 1,500 people.

After his official schedule, Zardari was to make a brief private visit to Normandy in northern France where his family owns a chateau.


© 2010 AFP

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