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Pakistan's President Visits Britain Amid Diplomatic Furor


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari arrives in Britain amid a diplomatic dispute about comments made by Britain's prime minister linking Pakistan to terrorism. The visit also comes as concerns grow about massive flooding in Pakistan that has killed at least 1,400 people.

It was bound to cause friction. But British Prime Minister David Cameron's comments last week sparked a diplomatic dispute that just won't go away.

Speaking during his visit to Pakistan's main rival India, Mr. Cameron publicly linked Pakistan to terrorism. "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able in any way to promote the export of terror, whether to India, to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world," he said.

The comments went over well in India, but caused immediate rebuttals and fury in Pakistan.

Demonstrators in Karachi burned effigies of Mr. Cameron, denouncing his comments. Some called on President Zardari to cancel his visit to Britain, but he went ahead. Pakistani Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the president's talks in Britain would help set the record straight.

"He will have a dialogue and good discussion, and he will explain the facts to the new [British] government over here," Kaira said. He denied allegations that elements of Pakistan's intelligence services support the Taliban or other extremist groups.

A spokesperson for Mr. Cameron said the prime minister stands by his statement.

Such allegations against Pakistan's intelligence service are not new.

Pakistan and South Asia analyst Farzana Shaikh of London's Chatham House research center says similar allegations have been made in the past - even by senior American officials. But, she says, the British prime minister's comments hit a raw nerve. "What we're seeing here really is Pakistan venting its frustration against Britain," she said, "which is to my mind the second best target. Its real target is, of course, the United States."

Shaikh says while Pakistan does not wish to jeopardize its relationship with the United States, it harbors grievances that go back for decades. "As far as Pakistan is concerned, it has felt right from the beginning that it served the United States purely as an instrument to secure the United States' larger strategic interests," she said.

That, she says, includes the fight against communism and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and now the fight against the Taliban and Islamic extremism.

President Zardari has already come under criticism for this trip - for political reasons and because he is traveling abroad while more than 3 million Pakistanis back home are affected by some of the worst flooding the country has experienced in 80 years. Critics say he should have stayed home to deal with the crisis.

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