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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari arrived in Britain for meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron amid a spat with the United Kingdom over Pakistan's commitment to fighting terrorism and growing calls from opposition politicians in Pakistan for the president to return home to handle the aftermath of serious flooding there.
In series of recent interviews, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Zardari have traded barbs, accusing each other of misrepresenting the wars in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Analysts are cautioning calm. Cameron should "carefully consider how best to stem the bitterness in Pakistan that threatens to damage its relations with Britain,” writes Farzana Shaikh, an analyst at Chatham House, a London-based think tank.
Zardari’s London visit is not off to a great start. A crowd of protestors was on hand as he arrived at the Churchill Hotel on Wednesday morning. And at least two high profile Pakistani-born British citizens have canceled meetings with Zardari in a protest of their own, reports Iran’s Press TV. Many are upset that Zardari is making a high profile visit while war, floods, and ethnic violence are raging back home.
The growing firestorm began last week, when Cameron warned Zardari’s government that it must stop “exporting terrorism abroad” – a reference to allegations that Pakistan’s intelligence establishment either supports or turns a blind eye to militants in its midst, as The Christian Science Monitor reported. Cameron has since softened his stance, but not backed down entirely.
"The war against terrorism must unite us and not oppose us," Zardari said in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde. "I will explain face to face that it is my country that is paying the highest price in human life for this war."
"We're protecting a large percentage of the population [in central Helmand Province], keeping them free from terror and, in the areas that we are in, you now see markets functioning and schools open ... and life is actually able to go on," he said.
I am always wary of people who say "I speak my mind," as though that was a good thing to begin with. It's a better strategy, surely, to think your mind, pick out some edited highlights, and speak those. Otherwise, what's the point of having a mind at all? You might as well just have your mouth wired up directly to somewhere else entirely.
Things also appeared to be worsening back home for the Pakistani president. In Karachi, 13 more people were killed Tuesday night in ethnic and political violence set off by the assassination of a senior politician, bringing the number of dead to 62 since Monday, reports Dawn, an English-language newspaper in Pakistan.
Floods also continued to ravage Pakistan’s northwest and central provinces, killing at least 1,500, displacing millions, and fueling outrage against the government – particularly Zardari.
“Contempt for human life is at the heart of Pakistan's miseries…. How else to explain our president's decision to visit Europe while the country suffers one of its greatest natural disasters?” reads an opinion piece in Britain’s Guardian newspaper by Pakistan-based freelance journalist Mustafa Qadri.