David Cameron will try to assuage Pakistani fury over remarks linking the country with terrorism after its president arrives for a visit to Britain tomorrow.
The Prime Minister will not apologise for accusing elements within the Pakistani state of "looking both ways" on terrorism, but will absolve its government of any blame for promoting extremism and violence.
He is keen to lower the diplomatic temperature after his comments led to his effigy being burned in the streets of Islamabad and a boycott by Pakistani intelligence officials of a counter-terrorism summit in Britain.
President Asif Ali Zardari has defied domestic pressure to cancel his five-day visit to Britain in which he will discuss issues ranging from export tariffs to terrorism. He is expected to make clear his displeasure over his host's remarks, particularly as they were delivered by Mr Cameron during a visit to its neighbour and arch-rival, India.
The Prime Minister's aides said he did not regret his comments, despite the fury they provoked in Islamabad, and was determined to build on a history of good relations with Pakistan.
The two leaders are due to meet at Chequers on Friday.
Khalid Mahmood, a Labour MP who was born in Kashmir, said: "A lot of people of Pakistani origin are hugely enflamed by this. They feel the country of their origin has been criticised for no real reason other than point-scoring by David Cameron. If you'll excuse the pun, all he's trying to do is curry favour with the Indians."
Writing in The Independent on Sunday, the former foreign secretary, David Miliband, compared Mr Cameron to "a cuttlefish squirting out ink", creating a foreign policy mess in his desire to create a splash with his comments about Pakistan.
The backlash against Mr Cameron in Pakistan gathered pace yesterday as Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the opposition and twice former prime minister, joined the protests. "It's inappropriate and an insult to the sentiments of the Pakistani people," he said.
Altaf Hussain, the London-based leader of Mr Zardari's partners in the ruling coalition, the MQM, urged the Pakistani president to stay at home.
The politicians' demands for a tougher stance come on the heels of the powerful military establishment's decision to cancel a scheduled visit to London by its top spy chief, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
The Pakistan People's Party, led by Mr Zardari, finds itself increasingly isolated as political opponents accuse it of being too closely aligned with the West. But Pakistani analysts say the furore has not led to a breakdown in diplomatic relations and normal relations are likely to resume over time.
Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's High Commissioner to Britain, robustly defended the decision to continue with the president's visit. "You don't give up talking just because you're upset," he said. "You discuss these matters. If we find that the British Prime Minister is amenable, then fine. If not, then we can consider other options."
Mr Hasan said that the Prime Minister's contentious comments would be discussed during the two leaders' meeting. "Cameron did plain talking, so the president will do plain talking."
Other matters up for discussion, Mr Hasan added, would include "strategic dialogue", bilateral trade talks, and the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, the grouping of nations formed to bolster Pakistan's democracy and its social and economic development.Reuse content