- counter-terrorism - Pakistan - UK
Pakistan spy chief cancels UK visit after 'terror' accusations
Pakistan's spy chief has scrapped a planned visit to Britain after his country's powerful Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency came under fire from Prime Minister David Cameron for its ties to insurgent groups.
REUTERS - Pakistan’s spy chief has called off a trip to Britain in protest at Prime Minister David Cameron’s remarks on its militant ties, as Islamabad is hit by a barrage of criticism of its alleged links to terror groups.
A spokesman for the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency, said on Saturday that senior intelligence officials, including ISI head Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, would not go to London on Monday as planned for counter-terrorism talks.
But President Asif Ali Zardari will still visit Britain next week, a government spokesman said.
Cameron, speaking in Pakistan’s arch-rival India on Wednesday, told Islamabad that it must not become a base for militants and "promote the export of terror" across the globe.
A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman said this week his country had been "saddened" by Cameron’s remarks. Pakistan is a key ally of the United States whose help is crucial for U.S. and Western efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan.
Cameron’s remarks came days after classified U.S. military reports published on the whistleblower WikiLeaks website detailed U.S. concern that the ISI had aided Taliban militants while the Pakistani government was taking billions of dollars in U.S. aid.
This was not the first time Pakistan’s alleged ties to al Qaeda and Taliban militants, waging a nine-year war in neighbouring Afghanistan, have been put in the spotlight in the past two weeks.
Militant ties in spotlight
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a recent visit to Pakistan, said she believed al Qaeda leaders were still hiding in Pakistan and that some elements in the Pakistani government knew where they were.
Cameron’s remarks appear to have further annoyed Pakistan, which has launched a largescale military offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban militants in its northwestern provinces bordering Afghanistan.
The ISI spokesman said more than 2,500 Pakistani soldiers had been killed and more than 4,000 wounded in battles against militants since the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan in 2001.
More than 30,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in the same period, in addition to over 100 ISI officials, the spokesman added.
Pakistan’s high commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, said this week in a column in Britain’s Guardian newspaper that Cameron had « damaged the prospects of regional peace ».
Pakistan’s neighbour India also accuses it of supporting militants operating on its soil and peace talks between the two countries have been deadlocked since 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
"He is new in government. Maybe he will learn soon and know how to handle things," Hasan also told the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Pakistan’s economic losses have been estimated by the government at more than $68 billion since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and toppling of the Taliban regime there in 2001.
Cameron, asked by British broadcasters whether he regretted damaging relations with Pakistan ahead of the meeting, he said: "I don’t accept that they have been damaged ... I look forward to discussing these and other issues (with Zardari)."