British Prime Minister David Cameron made a classic politician’s gaffe: he spoke his mind instead of taking directions from his handlers. While in India of all places, Cameron said Pakistan needs to understand “that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror”. This barbed comment was clearly spurred by the recent release of the Afghan war logs by Wikileaks, which indicated a working relationship between Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan Taliban. Although Cameron ‘clarified’ his remarks by saying he was making a general comment and not an accusation, the damage to Pakistan-Britain relations has already been done.
Pakistan’s reaction has been equally over-the-top. Everyone from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to the high commissioner to Britain has lashed out at the British prime minister. President Asif Zardari is to visit the UK next month and will be a guest of Mr Cameron’s at his countryside residence Chequers. But the trip may be postponed as a sign of protest against the remarks. Islamabad is offended given how many lives — civilians as well as military — have been lost to suicide attacks inside the country. Questioning Pakistan’s loyalties is a favoured pastime of foreign leaders. Successive US administrations have repeated the “do more” mantra and there is not a single government in the western world that entirely trusts us. But looked at from the other side, British taxpayers’ money funds aid to Pakistan and as prime minister, Mr Cameron would, he would at least think, be failing in his job if this was used for anything other than its intended use of socio-economic development.
It is clear that behind the smooth talker who wooed the British public with his rhetoric and charm lies a steelier man unafraid to speak his mind. In just two days, he was able to offend two of Britain’s erstwhile allies. In Turkey, he likened the Gaza Strip, blockaded by the Israelis, to a “prison camp”. One member of Cameron’s entourage even remarked that the prime minister seemed to have adopted a policy of “insulting the neighbour of every country we visit.” Both of Cameron’s statements contain kernels of truth but also show that he lacks the skills required for international diplomacy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2010.