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Tension mounts as President Zardari begins EU tour

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-08-02

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is in Paris ahead of what could be a tense trip to London after British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested Islamabad was not doing enough to fight terrorism.

When Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visits European powers this week, he will not be accompanied by some key members of his entourage. The heads of Pakistan’s intelligence gathering agency, the omnipresent Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), including General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, are boycotting a stop in London.
Their absence is to protest statements made on Wednesday by British Prime Minister David Cameron, notably that Pakistan must not “promote the export of terror”. The stinging criticism was amplified by the fact it was voiced during Cameron’s own visit to Pakistan’s arch-rival India.

Cameron’s statements came just days after the whistleblower website Wikileaks published classified US intelligence documents that said clear links between ISI and the Afghan Taliban had been established.
Ignoring pressure from the opposition, and despite street protests in which effigies of David Cameron were burned, Zardari decided not to cancel his scheduled meeting with the British prime minister.

A first stop in Paris

Before Zardari lands in London, he will make a two-day stop in Paris. The Pakistani president and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are expected to discuss commercial agreements, as well as more sensitive issues, on Monday.
In a statement, the French ministry of foreign affairs said that Zardari’s visit would “address security issues and the fight against terrorism, the regional situation, as well as [our] economic cooperation,” in order “to strengthen the bilateral relationship with Pakistan.”

The two countries have already expressed their wish to improve relations during a previous visit by the Pakistani president in May 2009, highlighting potential cooperation in the development of nuclear energy.
But the two heads of state must also address more controversial topics, such as the 2002 bomb attack in Karachi that claimed the lives of eleven French naval engineers. Reports have suggested the attack was retribution to France for the termination of financial kickbacks to Pakistani officials.
More recently, a French bill to ban the full Islamic veil in any public space has stung Pakistani sensitivities. Islamabad considers this move a violation of the individual rights of Muslims.

Bottoming out in opinion polls
While Zardari’s trip should improve his relations with Cameron and Sarkozy, it is likely to have the opposite effect in Pakistan, where he is already suffering from rock-bottom approval ratings, according to one US-based pollster.
A survey by the Pew Reseach Center says only 20 percent of Pakistanis have a favourable opionion of their leader. This figure stands in stark contrast to the 61 percent of Pakistanis who approve of the country's military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the 94 percent who believe their military has a positive impact on their country.

Date created : 2010-08-01


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