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War against the Taliban being lost, says Zardari

The president of Pakistan increased the pressure on David Cameron as he arrived in Britain last night, claiming that the war in Afghanistan was being lost and warning against Mr Cameron repeating his criticism of Pakistan's intelligence services.

President Asif Ali Zardari, who arrived in London for a five-day visit which will include talks with the Prime Minister, told the French newspaper Le Monde: "The international community, to which Pakistan belongs, is losing the war against the Taliban. This is above all because we have lost the battle to win hearts and minds."

The President also appeared to criticise Mr Cameron's warning to his country over its "export of terror," saying: "It is unfortunate that certain individuals continue to express doubts and fears about our determination to fight militants to the end. Such fears will only weaken the international effort to fight militants and extremists."

He added, ahead of meeting Mr Cameron at Chequers on Friday: "The war against terrorism must unite us and not oppose us. I will explain face to face that it is my country that is paying the highest price in human life for this war."

Mr Zardari also said that the Taliban had "no chance of regaining power, but their grip is strengthening".

Mr Zardari has been criticised at home and by British Pakistanis for continuing his visit of Europe while his country has been hit by its worst flooding in 80 years, killing at least 1,400 and affecting up to three million people.

Attention in the coming days will turn to the launch of his son's political career in Birmingham on Saturday.

Responding to Mr Zardari's comments in a radio interview later, Mr Cameron said he did not accept that US and Nato-led forces in Afghanistan were "losing the battle of hearts and minds".

He said: "We're protecting a large percentage of the population [in central Helmand province] keeping them free from terror and, in the areas that we are in, you now see markets functioning and schools open... and life is actually able to go on.

"So I don't accept that we're losing the battle of hearts and minds. It is very difficult, it's very tough what we're asking our troops to do, but there's a basic programme here, which is protect the people in a classic counter-insurgency programme, build up the Afghan army and police and as they are capable of taking care of their own security, we will be able to leave." He added: "It's not some starry-eyed vision of building the perfect democracy."

Earlier, Mr Cameron said he had no regrets over his comments about Pakistan-based terrorism which caused anger ahead of Mr Zardari's visit, insisting that they should not affect the UK's "strong" relationship with Pakistan.

"I gave a pretty clear and frank answer to a clear and frank question and I don't regret that at all," he told BBC WM radio. "It is important to speak frankly about these things while at the same time, as I did in India, recognising that in Pakistan they themselves have suffered terribly from terrorism.

"The President himself lost his wife to terrorists but that only reinforces the fact that we have to work with them to close down the terror networks that are in Pakistan that threaten our soldiers in Afghanistan, have threatened innocent people in India and have threatened innocent people all over the world, including here in the UK."

The Prime Minister also expressed "enormous sympathy" for the people of Pakistan over the catastrophic floods engulfing parts of the country and stressed that Britain boosted aid there.