LONDON // The leaders of Pakistan and Britain did their best yesterday to put the simmering row over terrorist links behind them. The British prime minister, David Cameron, caused outrage in Pakistan 10 days ago when he accused the nation of "exporting terrorism". To make matters worse, he made the remarks in India. Pakistani opposition leaders demanded that the president, Asif Ali Zardari, call off his visit to Britain this week in protest. But he went ahead and, after meeting Mr Cameron at the prime minister's country retreat yesterday, emerged to tell the world that the friendship between Pakistan and the UK would "never break".
For his part, Mr Cameron described the links between the two countries as "unbreakable", though neither leader directly referred to the terror row prior to the meeting, Mr Zardari had pledged to challenge Mr Cameron on his comments. Afterwards, all Mr Zardari would say was: "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 that the world is a better place for our coming generations.
"This is a friendship that will never break, no matter what happens. A Downing Street spokesman said later that the hour-long meeting had been "very warm and constructive", with "excellent dynamics" between the two men. Asked if the pair had discussed Mr Cameron's remarks in India, the official would only say that there had been a "detailed and very constructive, fruitful discussion on counter-terrorism issues".
Standing alongside Mr Zardari at a post-meeting press conference, Mr Cameron - who has insisted his remarks last week were directed at extremists in Pakistan and not the government or any government officials - said that the two nations would work together to "deepen and enhance" their strategic relationship, including the fight against terrorism. "The president and I have been talking about what we see as an unbreakable relationship between Britain and Pakistan based on our mutual interests," said Mr Cameron.
"Above all what we've been talking about is our strategic partnership and how we can deepen and enhance that partnership to make sure we deal with all the issues where we want to see progress - whether that is in trade, whether it is in education and also in the absolutely vital area of combating terrorism, where we want to work together to combat terrorism. "Whether it is keeping troops safe in Afghanistan or keeping people safe on the streets of Britain, that is a real priority for my government and somewhere, with Pakistan, we are going to work together in this enhanced strategic partnership."
In a statement issued later, Mr Cameron went out of his way to recognise the "sacrifices" that Pakistan had made in the fight against terrorism. The two men later planted a tree in honour of Mr Zardari's assassinated wife, the former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto. It was also revealed that Theresa May, the UK's home secretary, will travel to Pakistan this autumn and that Mr Cameron will make an "early visit" to the country.
The joint statement said: "Both leaders discussed the role being played by the (Pakistan) democratic government in fighting against terrorism. "The prime minister recognised the sacrifices made by Pakistan's military, civil law enforcement agencies and people in fighting violent extremism and militancy and appreciated the efforts of the democratic government. "Both leaders appreciated the close co-operation that already exists between respective police forces and other security agencies. the two leaders agreed that such co-operation needs to and will intensify."
With the official part of his visit now over, Mr Zardari - who has faced mounting criticism at home for travelling to Europe as the worst floods in almost a century ravaged much of the country - is staying on to address a meeting of European supporters of his Pakistani People's Party in Birmingham today. The event had been widely reported as being the launching pad for the political career of Mr Zardari's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has just completed his studies at Oxford University.
However, he issued a statement yesterday saying: "This is not true. In fact, I will not even be attending the event and instead I will be opening a donation point at the Pakistani High Commission in London for victims of the terrible floods which have ravaged Northern Pakistan." He added that he was planning to continue his education "both academic and political" and was "looking into the possibility of studying law".