Prime Minister David Cameron called for a “fresh start” in relations between Britain and Pakistan after he last year accused elements in the South Asian country of exporting terrorism.
Cameron, on his first visit to Pakistan since he took office almost a year ago, told university students in Islamabad today he wants to “clear up the misunderstandings of the past” and “mark a new chapter” in ties between the two countries.
“We want a strong relationship with a secure, prosperous, open and flourishing Pakistan,” he said. “I acknowledge that there are challenges that our friendship must overcome. But I want to argue today that they shouldn’t hold us back anymore.”
Cameron sparked a diplomatic storm when he said during a visit to India in July that Pakistan, a key ally in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants based along its frontier with Afghanistan, should not be allowed to “look both ways” on terrorism or “promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world.”
The dispute raised concerns that Pakistan might curtail intelligence sharing, seen as vital in preventing acts of terrorism in the U.K. Jonathan Evans, director general of the MI5 intelligence service, said in September that the tribal areas of Pakistan accounted for half of all terrorist plots against the U.K.
“The most important thing for European governments is a constant flow of intelligence from Pakistan,” said Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, professor of international relations at Quaid-e-Azam International University in Islamabad. Cameron “is going to try to restore that relationship if there was any damage after his comments in India.”
Speaking after talks with Cameron today, Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said his country is committed to the fight against terrorism and ready to share intelligence.
“I want to assure you, through you the media, that Pakistan has the resolve and has the commitment to fight against extremism and terrorism and we have the ability,” Gilani told Cameron at a joint news conference in Islamabad. Pakistan had “paid a very heavy price” for its efforts, with tens of thousands of people killed and injured, he said.
Cameron replied that the Pakistani government is engaged in “a huge fight” against terrorism that had cost the lives of “many, many people.”
Cameron made his comments last July after military documents published on the Wikileaks website suggested Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, secretly aided the Taliban and other militant groups. He later said he was referring to “people within Pakistan” who are responsible for terrorism rather than the government.
At his press conference with Gilani today, Cameron said the U.K. and Pakistan had an “unbreakable” friendship and that it was in British interests to see Pakistan succeed. Accompanied by John Sawers, chief of the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service, and head of the armed forces, David Richards, Cameron earlier held talks with Gilani, army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and intelligence chief Ahmed Shujaa Pasha in Islamabad.
The two prime ministers signed a document detailing “enhanced strategic dialogue,” committing the U.K. to working with the U.S. and Pakistan on setting up a “centre for excellence” to share expertise in countering roadside explosives. The homemade bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, are the “main threat” to British soldiers in Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary William Hague said in October.
The agreement included as much as 650 million pounds ($1.05 billion) in aid over the next four years to provide education for 4 million of the 17 million Pakistani children not in school. The countries pledged to double trade between them to 2.5 billion pounds a year by 2015.
Cameron also urged Pakistan to increase the amount of tax it collects, arguing that its current tax-to-GDP ratio of 10 percent makes it harder to justify sending aid money from the U.K., where the ratio is 36 percent.
“You are not raising the resources necessary to pay for things that a modern state and people require,” he said. “Too few people pay tax. Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all -- and that’s not fair.”