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World News

Pakistan spy chief scraps UK trip on "terror" remarks

ISLAMABAD/LONDON (Reuters) - Pakistan’s spy chief has canceled a trip to Britain, a spokesman said on Saturday, but Islamabad played down a row over remarks by British Prime Minister David Cameron suggesting Pakistan was not doing enough to fight terrorism.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media in Ankara in this July 27, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

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 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.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, already in Britain ahead of Cameron’s remarks, said the British prime minister’s remarks were “contrary to the facts” and “not in good taste.”

“But our reasonable reaction is ... we will discuss this matter at the highest level of the leadership and give them the facts,” he told a news conference in London.

“If we go back into history, our relations with the UK are very good. And we want to keep up those relations, strengthen those relations,” he said.

Pakistan’s help is crucial for U.S. and Western efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.

Cameron’s remarks came days after classified U.S. military reports published on the WikiLeaks website detailed concerns that the ISI had aided the Taliban while Pakistan’s government was taking billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

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 large 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.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting militants operating on its soil and peace talks between the two countries have been deadlocked since 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

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 government 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).”

Editing by Jon Hemming

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