Diplomatic relations with Pakistan were dealt a severe blow last night when its powerful intelligence agency cancelled a visit to London and President Zardari wavered over an official trip to meet David Cameron.
“The visit has been cancelled in reaction to the comments made by the British Prime Minister against Pakistan,” a spokesman for the Inter-Services Intelligence told The Times. He was referring to Mr Cameron’s suggestion during a visit to India that Pakistan was “exporting terror” in the region and “looking both ways” in dealing with militant groups.
“Such irresponsible statements could affect our co-operation with Britain,” said the ISI spokesman. Senior officers had been due to discuss counter-terrorism co-operation with British security services in London. The fact that Lieutenant-General Shuja Pasha, the ISI’s director-general, called off his officers’ trip will raise grave concerns that the Prime Minister may have jeopardised crucial military and intelligence co-operation with Pakistan — the main source of terrorist plots in Britain — in his quest to boost commercial ties with India.
The ISI is controlled by the Pakistani Army — by far the most powerful institution in the country — and is the agency through which British security services try to identify, monitor and arrest people considered to be potential threats to Britain.
The cancellation of the visit is the most serious fallout from the Prime Minister’s blunt remarks last week, during which he also accused Israel of turning Gaza into a prison camp.
Mr Zardari is now under intense pressure to cancel his three-day visit next week, which was timed to counter-balance the Prime Minister’s visit to India. Opposition leaders, newspaper editorials and television commentators have urged the Pakistani Government to take a tougher stance.
The President had been due to stay with Mr Cameron at Chequers. A senior aide said: “The visit is still on but the plan could change.” He added that Mr Cameron’s statement did not bode well for relations between the countries.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said that he was still expecting Mr Zardari. “This is about continuing our good relationship with Pakistan,” she said.
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