Pakistan’s intelligence agency has cancelled planned talks with security experts in the UK in the wake of David Cameron’s claim that elements within the country were promoting the export of terror, it was confirmed today.
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.
It was reported that a senior Pakistani intelligence official had confirmed that Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha had called off the trip.
The military-run spy agency, the ISI, is said to operate largely beyond the control of civilians.
But the official said the decision to scrap the spy delegation’s visit was backed by the Pakistani government.
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.
Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, said after Mr Cameron’s comments: “One would have hoped that the British Prime Minister would have considered Pakistan’s enormous role in the war on terror and the sacrifices it has made since 9/11.
“He seems to be more reliant on information based on intelligence leaks, despite it lacking credibility or corroborating proof.
“A bilateral visit aimed at attracting business could have been conducted without damaging the prospects of regional peace.”
Pakistan is regarded by UK agencies as a key nation in the fight against terror. Former prime minister Gordon Brown said that 75% of terror plots under investigation in the UK were linked to the country.
Pakistan itself has suffered a wave of terror attacks following the launch of military operations aimed at militants in the north-west frontier regions bordering Afghanistan.
Neither Downing Street nor the Foreign Office would comment on the ISI decision not to visit the UK.
But officials said that Mr Zardari’s visit was still expected to go ahead as planned.
“Our understanding is that the visit is on,” said a Foreign Office spokeswoman.