Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was to arrive yesterday in Britain for a five-day visit, amid a simmering diplomatic spat between the two countries and calls for him to cancel the trip to look after his flood-devastated nation.
Zardari’s planned trip has been overshadowed by fury in Pakistan over British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments suggesting that the South Asian nation exports terrorism.
Zardari is set to meet Cameron for talks on Friday, and the comments made by the British leader last week are likely to dominate the agenda. Pakistani officials were outraged when Cameron said Pakistan must not be allowed to “promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world.”
The comments were deemed especially offensive because Cameron made them while visiting India, Pakistan’s nuclear rival.
Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Britain, called the comments “an immature reaction from an immature politician.”
Angry protesters in Karachi burned an effigy of Cameron.
Pakistan’s powerful spy chief, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, called off a trip to London this week, while Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi summoned the British High Commissioner to discuss the issue on Monday.
Cameron’s office made it clear he did not intend to back down from his remarks, saying on Monday that Britain has “very good, strong relations” with Pakistan and that Cameron “stands by” his comments and would not apologize.
Meanwhile, several British lawmakers of Pakistani origin said they have shunned invitations to meet Zardari in London, arguing that he should be in Pakistan as the worst floods in the country’s history killed up to 1,200 people and forced 2 million to flee their homes.
In related news, Amnesty International urged Pakistan on Monday to tackle human rights violations ahead of the visit.
Much of the Taliban-led insurgency in Pakistan is centered in the country’s lawless northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, a region branded by the US as the most dangerous place on Earth.
Amnesty said the worsening security situation there has left thousands of civilians dead and over a million displaced, and urged Islamabad to take action.
“The conditions are right for Pakistan to show it is serious about political solutions to the human rights violations, poverty, and constitutional rights vacuum in the northwest,” Amnesty Asia-Pacific head Sam Zarifi said.
“President Zardari should take this opportunity to answer his critics by announcing specific, major reforms, like the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulations that treat northwestern Pakistan like a human rights-free zone.”
The Frontier Crimes Regulation is a colonial-era law that applies only to the population of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the northwest, where the Pakistani police and courts have no jurisdiction.