August 6, 2010 / 10:54 AM / 10 years ago

Britain and Pakistan gloss over diplomatic spat

GREAT MISSENDEN, England (Reuters) - Britain and Pakistan agreed on Friday to do more together to fight Islamist militancy, brushing aside a diplomatic spat that followed British criticism of Pakistani efforts to counter extremism.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) walks with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari at Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, near Ellesborough in southern England August 6, 2010. REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid/pool

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on a trip to India last week Pakistan should not “look both ways” in combating militant groups, causing anger in Islamabad and straining relations between the two countries.

The dispute has overshadowed President Asif Ali Zardari’s five-day visit to Britain this week.

Both leaders were at pains to put a positive gloss on their relations after talks on Friday at Cameron’s official country residence at Chequers, northwest of London.

“Storms will come and storms will go and Pakistan and Britain will stand together and face all the difficulties with dignity, and we will make sure the world is a better place for our coming generations,” Zardari told reporters.

Cameron spoke of an “unbreakable relationship between Britain and Pakistan based on our mutual interests.”

The leaders took no questions from reporters after making short statements. Zardari has faced criticism at home for traveling to Europe when devastating floods in Pakistan have killed more than 1,600 people.

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Pakistan’s spy chief canceled a trip to London in protest against Cameron’s comment, raising concern Britain could be cut out of important intelligence about domestic plots.

Zardari risked widening the rift with Cameron earlier this week by saying the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan was losing the war against the Taliban.

Pakistan’s help is seen as essential to Western efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency is at its strongest since the hardline Islamists were overthrown in 2001.

British and Pakistani government officials denied there had been any damage to intelligence cooperation.

However, while Cameron may have mended fences with Zardari, this was unlikely to have much effect on the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

The military in Pakistan is particularly sensitive about India, which it sees as its main threat. It watches closely any arms sales to India which might affect the military balance between the two nuclear-armed countries.

The fact that Cameron made his comments about Pakistan in India, while also securing a $1.1 billion deal with a state-run Indian firm to supply 57 Hawk trainer aircraft, would have been seen as adding insult to injury.

Cameron spoke a few days after U.S. military reports published on the WikiLeaks website detailed concerns the ISI had aided Taliban militants in Afghanistan, where Britain has 9,500 troops.

Cameron’s blunt approach to diplomacy has ruffled feathers in Europe, over his support for Turkey’s desire to join the European Union, and Israel, after he likened Gaza to a prison camp.

Combating militancy was high on the agenda on Friday and Cameron, in office since May, said the two countries would do more to improve cooperation on security and policing.

“That is a real priority for my government and somewhere where, with Pakistan, we are going to work together,” he said.

The two leaders issued a communique vowing to intensify counter-terrorism cooperation and strengthen trade ties, and Cameron accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan.

They pledged to hold annual summit meetings and regular national security discussions.

Additional reporting by Myra Macdonald; Writing by Matt Falloon; Editing by Andrew Dobbie

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