British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday called for a ‘fresh start’ in fraught ties with Pakistan, promising investment, aid and security cooperation but also pressing the country to claim more taxes from its rich.
He also urged Pakistan and India to look beyond ‘cricket diplomacy’ and embrace their common interests.
The British leader – who launched an enhanced strategic dialogue in a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart – also addressed students of Comsats University in Islamabad during his whirlwind tour.
The strategic dialogue also involved the head of British spy agency MI6, John Sawers, and its military chief David Richards, as well as Pakistan’s Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI head Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
In his address at the Comsats, Premier Cameron moved to draw a line under the row sparked during a visit to India last July, when he said Islamabad could not be allowed to ‘look both ways’, promoting the export of terror while publicly working for stability in the region.
“Let’s today make a fresh start in our relationship,” he said. “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.”
Referring to Pakistan’s elite, Cameron said it was hard to sell increases in British aid while many among the impoverished nation’s wealthy citizens failed to pay tax.
“Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all and that’s not fair,” he told the students. He pointed out that Pakistan spends “only 1.5 per cent of its GDP on education” but is home to “one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world.”
Cameron’s appeal for a tighter tax regime in Islamabad, echoes those from the United States and World Bank, keen for Pakistan to get fiscal reforms on track, kick-start the economy and help meet the cost of devastating floods last year that affected up to 21 million people.
“My job is made more difficult when people in Britain look at Pakistan, a country that receives millions of pounds of our aid money, and see weaknesses in terms of government capacity and waste,” he said.
Making case for normalisation of ties between Pakistan and India, Cameron described the sight of the two premiers sitting next to each other to watch the cricket World Cup semi-final last week in Mohali as a “tremendous sign of hope for the future”.
“I believe the time is ripe for your countries to look even further beyond what divides you and embrace what unites you,” Cameron said in the watched on video-link by students at Comsats campuses across the country.
“Two democracies, with young, ambitious populations and all the potential in the world – and you live side by side. The opportunities for mutual progress are simply enormous. The opportunity to trade and grow.”
Wary of previous attempts to weigh in – then foreign secretary David Miliband caused a diplomatic spat in January 2009 when he urged India to resolve the dispute over Kashmir – Cameron said the issue ‘is for you to decide’.
But he promised his government would not take sides. “There have been accusations that in the past, countries in this region have been played off one against the other by the West. I am clear – this whole approach of choosing sides is wrong,” he said.
Cameron added: “India is very important to the UK. Pakistan is very important to us too. We don’t have to choose between a strong relationship with either Pakistan or India – we want a strong relationship with both.”
At a joint news conference with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, Cameron said his administration has not received a formal request from Pakistan for the extradition of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
He added that though Musharraf spends most of his time in London, his administration could not commit anything on his extradition without a formal request from Islamabad as the two countries do not have an extradition treaty between them.
Appearing alongside his Cameron, Premier Gilani said his government was committed to fighting the war against terrorism as it suffered more casualties in this war than the US-led Nato forces did in Afghanistan. “I want to assure you through the media that Pakistan has the resolve and has the commitment to fight against extremism and terrorism,” he said.
Cameron said, “Terrorism threatens both our countries. Pakistan has suffered great loss and we have no shared higher priority than tackling terrorism.”
The two premiers agreed to set up a centre to help Pakistan better counter roadside bombs, which pose a major threat to Britain’s 9,500 troops in Afghanistan as well as Pakistani security forces fighting the Taliban.
Based in Risalpur near Peshawar, the centre will provide training in detection, forensic investigation and bomb disposal.
With reference to Pakistan-UK ties, Cameron frequently used the word ‘unbreakable’ at the news conference. “The unbreakable partnership must not just be between our two governments. It must be between our peoples too,” he said.
He also sought closer ties in other areas, pledging to boost bilateral trade from £1.9 billion a year to £2.5 billion a year by 2015, and announcing up to £650 million over four years for education.
The aid money will help four million children go to school through providing training for 90,000 teachers and six million new textbooks. Cameron promised to continue to advocate for Pakistan to gain enhanced trade access to the EU, including through GSP+.
Cameron discusses strategic dialogue with Zardari
British Prime Minister David Cameron had a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari at the Presidency on Tuesday evening where different issues, including Pak-UK strategic dialogue, the fight against militancy and trade access to EU markets for Pakistan’s goods were discussed.
Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar told the media that the two leaders affirmed their commitment to enhance strategic ties between their countries.
Babar quoted the president as saying that the Pak-UK strategic dialogue was a significant step and was vital for both sides, for this region and for the world as a whole. He stressed the need for the two sides to gear up to achieve the objectives that “we have set for ourselves in the declaration of enhanced strategic dialogue.”
“We believe the national security dialogue, comprising political, military and intelligence tracks will lead to creating a better understanding in bringing about clarity on issues of global, regional peace and security,” he added.
About the Afghan issue, the president said peace and stability in Afghanistan was necessary for regional peace and emphasised on the Afghan-led peace process in the country rather than foreign led.
The president said an appreciation of the dynamics of human relations by the international community was no less important than machines and weapons.
He said any initiative on Afghanistan should ensure Afghan ownership of the process as well as territorial integrity of the country and that its soil was not used against any other country. Pakistan stands for a peaceful, stable, friendly and a united Afghanistan, the president said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2011.