Pakistan’s intelligence agency cancelled planned talks with security experts in the UK in protest at David Cameron’s claim that elements within the country were promoting the export of terror, it has been reported.
The cancelled trip is the most concrete indication so far of damage done to Anglo-Pakistani relations by Mr Cameron’s comments, which sparked outrage in Islamabad when he made them during this week’s trip to India.
It comes days ahead of a three-day visit to the UK by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, during which he is expected to stay with Mr Cameron at his country retreat Chequers.
The Times reported that senior officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had been due to come to London for talks on counter-terrorism co-operation with British security services. But an ISI spokesman told the paper: “The visit has been cancelled in reaction to the comments made by the British Prime Minister against Pakistan.”
Answering questions following a speech in India, Mr Cameron said he wanted to see “a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan”, adding: “But we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world.”
His comments triggered an angry response from Pakistani politicians, who pointed to the country’s military offensive against militants on the frontier with Afghanistan and the many victims of terrorist bombs in Pakistan.
But he did not take advantage of several opportunities to scale down his rhetoric during subsequent press conferences and interviews before his return to the UK.
The ISI spokesman said: “Such irresponsible statements could affect our co-operation with Britain.”
Pakistan is regarded by UK agencies as a key nation in the fight against terror, with a majority of plots against British targets believed to have links to the country. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that 75% of terror plots under investigation in the UK were linked to Pakistan.
Neither Downing Street nor the Foreign Office would comment on the reported decision by the ISI not to visit the UK. But officials said that Mr Zardari’s visit to the UK was still expected to go ahead as planned.