ISLAMABAD: Despite calls to cancel his visit to the UK after the British PM made adverse remarks about Pakistan’s inability to curb terrorism within its borders and in the region, President Zardari set off on his tour of France and the UK on Sunday.
Earlier, political opponents and allies of the ruling party had stepped up pressure on him to call off his scheduled visit to Britain in a snub to Prime Minister David Cameron. Instead, the president jetted off to France on Sunday in the first leg of his two-nation trip spanning over nine days. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira insisted that the president was going to the UK to “forcefully” take up the issue with the UK leadership.
During his three-day stay in France, Zardari is scheduled to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner besides visiting a famous Paris museum where Gandhara art is on display.
The president will be on official visit to Britain from August 3 to 9. He will be meeting Cameron on August 6, only days after the latter made, what some contend, were insulting remarks against Pakistan and its premier spy agency. However, government officials say the trip will go ahead as per schedule at all costs.
Last week, Premier Cameron, speaking at a news conference in India, accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of having links with those terror groups operating against India and Afghanistan.
It was former premier Nawaz Sharif, the chief of his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, who joined the “chorus” against Zardari’s scheduled visit during which he would also inaugurate his son Bilwal Bhutto as chairperson of the ruling party.
“Cameron has insulted the Pakistani nation…I think Zardari should not visit Britain at this stage,” Sharif told reporters in Nowshera after visiting the flood-hit areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Separately in Islamabad, PML-N information secretary Ahsan Iqbal said in a statement that there was no justification for Zardari’s foreign visit at the time when the country is reeling from deadly floods.
Various quarters had advocated that the money being spent by the president on his trip and at a political meeting in the UK be donated instead to victims of this week’s floods which have devastated parts of the country.
In Lahore, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan also announced to launch a protest if the president goes ahead with the plan of visiting the UK.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain, who himself lives in London, has already advised Zardari not to embark upon Britain’s tour in protest against Cameron’s statement.ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha has already cancelled a scheduled visit to London after his statement in India.
But a couple of federal ministers and Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said the president’s visit would be in national interest as he plans to raise with British authorities Cameron’s statement.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira expressed concerns that Pakistan-UK relations could be affected if Cameron repeats his assertions against Pakistan on the issue of terrorism.
Speaking at a reception hosted by the PPP UK chapter in London, Kaira said Prime Minister Cameron’s statement has “shocked Pakistan and hurt the sentiments of its people.” He said President Zardari during his visit to the UK would “forcefully take up this issue” with the British leadership.
In Lahore, Federal Law Minister Babar Awan said the president’s visit was inevitable to “remove misunderstanding” between the two countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2010.