LONDON: President Asif Ali Zardari and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday smoothed over a row about tackling terrorism in Pakistan as they agreed to step up cooperation in fighting the menace. Cameron had suggested last week that elements in Pakistan were backing the “export of terror”, triggering a diplomatic spat.
But he and Zardari put on a show of unity after their talks outside London, saying the bond between Pakistan and Britain was unbreakable.
Cameron also accepted an invitation to visit Islamabad within the next six months and agreed to a yearly summit with finance and home office ministers involved in this new strategic dialogue.
According to the joint statement released at the end of the meeting, both leaders agreed that a strong, stable, secure and economically prosperous Pakistan is vital to global and regional peace and stability. In recognition of this, both leaders agreed to pursue closer development, economic and trade cooperation as part of the intensified strategic dialogue.
‘A friendship that will never break’
“This is a friendship that will never break, no matter what happens,” Zardari said outside the prime minister’s weekend retreat of Chequers, northwest of London. “Storms will come and storms will go, and Pakistan and Britain will stand together and face all the difficulties with dignity,” he said.
Cameron said he wanted to enhance London’s partnership with Islamabad “in the absolutely vital area of combating terrorism”.
And he said they had discussed “what we see as an unbreakable relationship between Britain and Pakistan based on our mutual interests”.
“We want to work together to combat terrorism,” he said. “Whether it’s keeping troops safe in Afghanistan or to keep people safe on the streets of Britain, that is a real priority for my government.”
In a joint statement, Cameron and Zardari said London and Islamabad would step up their anti-terror co-operation. Among the common challenges facing the UK and Pakistan is the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, they said.
Both leaders appreciated the close co-operation that already exists between respective police forces and other security agencies. The two leaders agreed that such cooperation needs to and will intensify.
British newspaper The Guardian reported that Cameron and Zardari also agreed to hold regular top-level meetings between intelligence officials.
It is expected that Britain’s chief of defence staff, head of MI6, and Cameron’s national security adviser will meet their Pakistani counterparts in an attempt to ease suspicions that elements in Islamabad’s intelligence agencies are supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Britain’s home secretary will visit Pakistan in the autumn.
The two sides also discussed the situation in Afghanistan. It is believed that Zardari raised concerns that the coalition is losing the battle for hearts and minds, as well as his belief that setting a 2015 deadline for the departure of British troops will only encourage the Taliban to hang on.
A formal joint statement praised the role Pakistan has played in fighting terrorism, saying: “The prime minister recognised sacrifices made by Pakistan’s military, civil law enforcement agencies and people in fighting violent extremism, militancy and appreciated efforts of democratic government.”
Meanwhile, the two leaders also looked forward to the meeting between Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and British Foreign Minister William Hague under the revitalised dialogue in October, said the joint statement.
Grateful for Britain’s help
The Guardian reported that Zardari expressed gratitude for the UK’s “support in floods affecting Pakistan. I’m looking forward to a relationship where Britain supports Pakistan around the world.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2010.
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