LONDON (AFP) – President Asif Ali Zardari was to confront David Cameron in formal talks on Friday over the British prime minister’s claims that Pakistan is an exporter of terrorism.
Relations between the two countries have soured since Cameron hit out at Pakistan while on a visit to India last week.
“We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country (Pakistan) 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,” he told an audience in Bangalore, southern India.
The remark infuriated Islamabad, especially as it was made on a visit to Pakistan’s regional rival, India.
Cameron and Zardari held a private dinner on Thursday, to seek to repair relations, and were to have formal talks on Friday.
Zardari has been put under intense pressure at home to put the British leader straight on where Islamabad stands.
Downing Street confirmed the leaders would discuss fighting terrorism in the wake of Cameron’s comments.
“The leaders are expected to discuss the threat, review ongoing efforts, and explore what more can be done,” said a spokesman.
“The UK already has a significant programme of counter-terrorism assistance in Pakistan with Foreign Office counter-terrorism assistance rising to 9.5 million pounds (15.1 million dollars, 11.5 million euros) in 2010-2011.
“It is an important opportunity to reinforce the strong links between the UK and Pakistan and continue to support stability, security, democracy and prosperity in Pakistan.”
Zardari, whose late wife, Benazhir Bhutto was assassinated by militants in 2007, has argued that Pakistanis are often the victims of terrorist attacks on home soil and that Islamabad is committed to fighting extremists in the region.
He has vowed to express Islamabad’s anger “face to face” when he meets Cameron.
Cameron’s remarks prompted the Pakistani government earlier this week to summon Britain’s high commissioner (ambassador) to Islamabad.
Zardari came under enormous pressure to cancel his trip over the controversy, but his office insisted that the visit gives Pakistan a chance to make its case.
Despite standing by his comments, Cameron has accepted that Pakistanis are often the victims of attacks.
The leaders are also set to discuss the devastating floods in Pakistan which have killed around 1,500 people and affected more than four million others.
Zardari’s failure to return home immediately in the aftermath of the disaster has drawn criticism from opposition politicians in Pakistan and lawmakers of Pakistani origin in Britain.
Other issues on the agenda include the war in Afghanistan and how to boost trade between Britain and Pakistan.
The two leaders met for the first time Thursday since the row erupted over Cameron’s criticism, getting together for dinner at Chequers for what sources said would be an informal celebration of Bhutto.
After meeting Cameron, Zardari was to attend a Pakistan Peoples Party rally with his and Bhutto’s son Bilawal, his PPP co-chairman, on Saturday in Birmingham, central England.