Zardari Under Pressure to Send Warning to London

I filed this story last night. It made the front page, but got taken into another story and ended up essentially as a picture caption. It happens…. But anyway, I thought it said something interesting about the way Pakistan works. The military appears to be putting pressure on Zardari to make a stand over Cameron’s comments, but the civilian government would rather let the matter fade gently. As today has worn on it seems that Zardari has decided to press on with the meeting, although he remains under pressure to cancel. Anyway, here’s the story

PAKISTAN’S President is threatening to cancel a Chequers summit with David Cameron after the Prime Minister accused his country of spreading terrorism, escalating a bitter diplomatic row.

Relations between the two countries have already been soured by the clumsy allegations made by Mr Cameron during a visit to Pakistan’s arch-rival India.

Yesterday(THU), a senior Pakistani official said President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit was now in doubt.

“Our president is now giving serious consideration to cancelling his proposed visit to London next week,” he said.

“He is under considerable pressure from his senior officials to cancel his planned meeting with Mr Cameron at Chequers as a protest against the prime minister’s comments in India.”

The row with Pakistan has overshadowed Mr Cameron’s trip to India.

On Wednesday, during a question and answer session in Bangalore, he accused Pakistan of double dealing, by aligning itself with the West in the war on terror while elements of its military retained ties to extremist groups.

Mr Cameron said: “We can not tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.”

Aides had to later clarify that he was not accusing the Pakistan government of spreading terror.

His remarks brought a rapid denial from Islamabad.

“Obviously, we are saddened by Prime Minister Cameron’s remarks in Bangalore to an Indian audience. These remarks are contrary to the facts on the ground,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told a news briefing.

The issue has also highlighted a faultline within Pakistan’s elite.

Hardliners in the powerful military establishment want Zardari to take a stand while pragmatists within the civilian government would rather let the controversy fade, excusing the words as a simple mistake by the inexperienced leader of a key ally.

Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, said President Zardari would be under enormous pressure from the military and intelligence services to send a clear signal to London.

“This is the way it works,” he said.

“The way that Pakistan seems so upset by this statement, it may very well make him cancel his trip.

“It was very badly timed and not at all discreet, especially to make this statement in India.”

A senior government official insisted there no plans to cancel but admitted the comments would make the trip more awkward.

“Basically there is domestic pressure after these comments,” said the official.

“But President Zardari understands that while Prime Minister Cameron’s comments were unkind and the venue was inappropriate – by which I mean India – the UK and Pakistan are unified in the common goal of defeating terrorism.”

Mr Zardari is due to travel to the UK after visiting France, meeting Mr Cameron at Chequers on August 8 to discuss trade, the war on terror and the role of Britain’s Pakistani community.

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