Cameron in Pakistan to heal political rift

April 6, 2011 - 0:0

British Prime Minister David Cameron has arrived in Pakistan trying to heal a diplomatic rift that has threatened to undermine Britain’s defenses against terrorism.

The prime minister is paying a one-day visit to Islamabad where he will pledge a “fresh start” in relations with Pakistan and sign a new agreement to share intelligence on extremist groups.
After he sparked a damaging row with Pakistan last year, Cameron will insist he wants to build an “unbreakable partnership” between London and Islamabad.
MI5, the Security Service, estimates that half of all terrorist plots in the UK have links to Pakistan, more than any other nation.
Cameron last year caused widespread anger in Pakistan by accusing the country of “looking both ways” on terrorism and “exporting” extremist violence to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s influential Inter-Services Intelligence agency last year called Cameron’s remarks “irresponsible” and threatened to downgrade its co-operation with Britain’s intelligence agencies.
The ISI is a major source of information about terrorist threats in the UK, and British diplomats have been struggling to repair relations with Pakistan since last year’s spat.
Cameron will today describe the row as a “misunderstanding”, but concede that “tensions” remain in relations between the two countries.
Despite current difficulties, Cameron will insist that Britain and Pakistan can improve their relationship.
“Let’s clear up the misunderstandings of the past, work through the tensions of the present and look together to the opportunities of the future,” he will say.
“There are challenges that our friendship must overcome. But I want to argue today that they shouldn’t hold us back anymore. Whether it’s relations with India, our security, or questions of governance, if we work closely with one another, if we’re clear that we need each other to succeed, we can grasp these difficult issues and move beyond them to a better future.”
Cameron will today hold talks with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and announce a new ‘enhanced strategic dialogue’ with Islamabad.
The new dialogue will mean more regular summits between political, military and intelligence officials from the two countries.
Jonathan Evans, MI5’s director-general, last year said that 50 per cent of the “priority plots” his service is tracking are linked to the tribal areas of Pakistan, where al-Qaeda’s “senior leadership” is based.
That makes Pakistan the top priority for Britain’s international counter-terrorism work.
In 2008, MI5 estimated that around 75 of all serious terror plots it was monitoring had Pakistani links.
Officials say the share has fallen partly because Yemen and Somalia are now supporting more plots, but largely because of Western military strikes on al-Qaeda leaders in the Afghan-Pakistan border area.
The U.S., backed by Britain, has been killing extremist suspects in the area using unmanned drone aircraft. The drones, operated by the CIA, sometimes use intelligence from Britain’s GCHQ monitoring agency for targeting.