Pakistan withdraws from terror talks in Cameron protest

Prime Minister's comments on terrorism provoke anger in the government and streets of Karachi
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The Independent Online

David Cameron's comments about Pakistan's alleged links with terrorism threatened to cause a full-scale diplomatic row last night after the country's intelligence officials boycotted a counter-terrorism summit in the UK and demonstrators burned an effigy of the Prime Minister on the streets of Karachi.

Three days before President Asif Ali Zardari is due to arrive in London, members of his intelligence services cancelled a planned conference with British counterparts over the stinging criticism delivered by Mr Cameron in India last week.

Pakistan's information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said yesterday that there was "resentment" in his country over the comments made during a visit to its traditional rival. But, amid warnings that the intervention could cause unrest among young British Pakistanis, he said he hoped the crisis could be resolved when the leaders meet this week at the PM's country retreat, Chequers.

Mr Cameron provoked fury when he said Pakistan should not be able "to look both ways" on terror, after a speech in Bangalore last Wednesday. He also said Pakistan must not "promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world".

Former foreign secretary David Miliband joins criticism today, accusing Mr Cameron of "chasing headlines". In an exclusive article for The Independent on Sunday, he likens Mr Cameron to "a cuttlefish squirting out ink" during his visits to Turkey and India last week. "Pakistan is the region's tinderbox," Mr Miliband writes. "We have 10,000 young men and women at risk in Afghanistan. Only a political settlement can bring an end to the war.

"For that we need Pakistan; and they need our economic and military support. David Cameron is right that terrorist groups have launched attacks from Pakistan. But that is only part of the picture. Pakistan has also been the victim of terror. But the Prime Minister, in attacking Pakistan for 'looking both ways', did not tell this side of the story."

Mr Cameron's comments were particularly damaging as they came soon after leaked US documents suggested Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) had been helping the Afghan insurgency. Pakistan officially referred to the remarks as "surprising, to say the least" and pointed to the "innumerable sacrifices" it had suffered at the hands of terrorists.

Mr Cameron's spokeswoman said he was referring to Pakistan as a country, not its government, but the PM did not row back in media appearances. But the row was reignited yesterday when the ISI director general, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, cancelled his UK visit, due to begin tomorrow, and confirmed that the decision had been made in direct response to Mr Cameron's comments. Sources in Islamabad said Pakistan had been outraged at the suggestion that it was playing a "double game" in Afghanistan.

In a sign of mounting public resentment, activists from the radical group Shabab-e-Milli burned a dummy of Mr Cameron outside the Karachi Press Club, and called for Pakistan to cut diplomatic ties with the UK. The protesters held up a banner reading "David Camroon – The loos mouth".

"There should be a protest on an international level as Pakistan is working in co-ordination with the international community in its war against terror," said organiser Mohammad Yousuf Munir. "It's a sheer injustice."

A former ISI head, General Hamid Gul, said Mr Cameron's comments were a "huge mistake" which had upset the nation – and could cause dangerous resentment among British youths with connections to Kashmir, the region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

General Gul added: "The UK has always maintained a very delicate balance between India and Pakistan and this has been rather rudely broken. And this has upset many Pakistanis; in fact the entire nation is really up in arms, but more than that, I don't see the sagacity in it. If you are talking about combating terrorism, this is not the way."

Sir Hilary Synnott, a former British high commissioner to Pakistan, said India and Britain had shared interests as both had been affected by the activities of such groups as Lashka-e-Toiba and Hakani network. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's quite clear Pakistan hasn't been controlling these groups sufficiently, so there comes a time, and it's for a politician to judge this time, when these matters have to be said more strongly."