Cameron: Britain's relationship with Pakistan is 'unbreakable'

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The Independent Online

David Cameron and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari agreed yesterday to improve co-operation between their two governments in the battle against terrorism.

The two leaders met at a time when it is feared that the monsoon floods in Pakistan, and the government's perceived failure to mount an effective relief operation, are generating support for Islamist groups in the Pakistani countryside.

Mr Cameron and President Zardari appeared side by side after an hour's meeting at Chequers, having gone some way towards smoothing over the diplomatic ruckus caused by Mr Cameron's remarks in India last week, when he publicly accused elements in Pakistan of exporting terror. His comments caused the Pakistani head of security to cancel a planned visit to London, but yesterday the two leaders had warm words for one another – at least in public.

Mr Cameron said: "The President and I have been talking about what we see as an unbreakable relationship between Britain and Pakistan. Whether it is keeping troops safe in Afghanistan or keeping people safe on the streets of Britain, that is a real priority for my Government, and somewhere where, with Pakistan, we are going to work together in this enhanced strategic partnership."

Standing at Mr Cameron's side, Mr Zardari said: "This is a friendship that will never break, no matter what happens. Storms will come and storms will go, and Pakistan and Britain will stand together and face all the difficulties with dignity and we will make sure that the world is a better place for our coming generations."

Later, when interviewed for the BBC's Newsnight, Mr Zardari added: "We've lost more soldiers than the world put together. I've lost my wife. We've lost our workers, my personal friends, my personal workers of the party who are like kids to us. We've lost them to this war. So I don't think anybody doubts our intentions on this war. But there can always be weaknesses which need to be strengthened, yes. There are weaknesses in both sides that need to be worked upon, and Pakistan needs more resources."

Downing Street said that to enhance security in both countries, it was agreed that Britain's national security adviser, chief of defence staff and intelligence officers should have "regular discussions" with their Pakistani counterparts, and once a year there will be a "security summit" involving the Prime Minister and either the President or Prime Minister of Pakistan. Mr Cameron has also accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan, though no date for the trip has been set. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, will visit in the autumn.

A formal statement issued by the two leaders after their meeting paid tribute to Pakistanis who risked their lives fighting terror. "The Prime Minister recognised the sacrifices made by Pakistan's military, civil law enforcement agencies and people in fighting violent extremism and militancy and appreciated the efforts of the democratic government. Both leaders appreciated the close co-operation that already exists between respective police forces and other security agencies."

Discussing economic relations, the president emphasised that Pakistan would rather have trade than aid, and Mr Cameron, in return, promised that Britain would be the biggest ally in Pakistan's attempts to gain better access to EU markets.

Mr Zardari has been heavily criticised by opposition MPs in Pakistan for being out of the country at a time of national emergency. "It was disgusting to see Zardari going on a joy ride when people here expected the President to stand with the nation at its hour of grief," said Ahsan Iqbal, of the main opposition party led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

On Newsnight, Mr Zardari defended himself, saying that in Pakistan it is the Prime Minister who should direct relief work. "I am the one who is given all the powers from the presidency to the parliament," he said. "The parliament is in session. Senate is in session. It's the Prime Minister's responsibility and he's fulfilling his responsibility."

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