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British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday defended his criticism of Pakistan for ‘exporting’ terror and said he would discuss the issue with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh during talks in New Delhi today. Mr. Cameron was responding to the Pakistani government’s statement that his comments about the country’s antiterror record were disappointing and could threaten regional peace.
Analysts believe the row illustrates the difficulty Western powers face when balancing relations between long-time rivals India and Pakistan.
On Wednesday, during a question and answer session at a technology company in India, where the prime minister is on a trade mission, Cameron stated, “We 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, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world,” reported the BBC.
The prime minister said he was not responsible for the headlines generated by his comments, but said: "I think what is absolutely clear is, it's not acceptable for, within Pakistan, there to be terrorist groups threatening Pakistan itself but also other countries, including British people, whether in Afghanistan or back at home….
Asked whether he regretted damaging relations with Pakistan, he said: "I don't accept that they have been damaged. We have very good relations with Pakistan – I have a meeting with President (Asif Ali) Zardari next week in the UK and I look forward to discussing these and other issues."
Pakistan's foreign ministry released a statement defending its "robust" partnership with the UK on counter-terrorism:
Pakistan has done much more than any other country in combating terrorism. Our people and security forces have rendered innumerable sacrifices. We hope that our friends will be able to persuade India to view this issue objectively and the value of “cooperation” in counter terrorism.
Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn describes the premier as now "mired in a diplomatic row with Islamabad."
The right-leaning Telegraph newspaper quotes a Downing Street source saying that Cameron’s successive comments are examples of the “plain speaking” that will define how the new prime minister conducts his foreign policy.
The left-leaning Guardian newspaper offers an opinion from Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK, who says that Cameron’s remarks were unnecessary and could “[damage] the prospects of regional peace.”
Mr. Cameron may have been trying to atone for a disastrous trip to India by former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband last year. During that trip, Mr. Miliband suggested in an article that India find a solution to the long-running dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir as a way to reduce regional terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
Mr. Miliband’s comments were perceived as meddling in Indian affairs and unfairly linking the attacks on Mumbai in 2008 […] with the Kashmir issue.
The diplomatic snafus show just how difficult it is to balance relations with both India and Pakistan. Western nations want a piece of India’s economic action – GDP is set to grow 8.5% this year, the central bank said this week – but they also need Pakistan to support efforts to root out the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Cameron’s comments come days after the leak of US military documents about the war in Afghanistan that allege the Pakistan intelligence agencies’ support for the Taliban. Speaking to The Christian Science Monitor, a former chief of the intelligence agency dismissed the allegations as “malicious, fictitious, and preposterous.”
But potentially confirming portions of the WikiLeaks report, the Monitor reported Wednesday a little-known June 2007 attempt to poison a key American adviser involved in the bidding for a multibillion dollar mining contract in Afghanistan by replacing beer in a bottle with sulfuric acid. The WikiLeaks reports claim that Pakistan’s ISI spy agency was planning to poison US soldiers' alcoholic drinks.