Pakistani President Zardari rejects terror criticism


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has restated his commitment to fighting terrorism, following talks with UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

In an interview with BBC Newsnight, he said: "I don't think anybody doubts our intentions on this war."

But he refused to be drawn on whether he had tackled Mr Cameron over his recent comments about Pakistan promoting terror.

He said the two men had focused on the "positive" in their discussions.

"We engaged in conversation like two adults," said Mr Zardari in an interview to be aired later on BBC Two's Newsnight.

The leaders issued a joint communique following their talks at Mr Cameron's country retreat Chequers, stressing their commitment to work more closely in future in the battle against terrorism, and in other areas such as education and trade.

Shaking hands with Mr Zardari outside Chequers, Mr Cameron hailed the "unbreakable" friendship between Britain and Pakistan and said the two men had discussed how to "deepen and enhance" their strategic partnership.

He said their talks had focused on making sure "we deal with all the issues where we want to make progress, whether that is in trade, whether it's in education, and also in the absolutely vital area of combating terrorism".

'No empathy'

But Mr Zardari has come in for fierce criticism, at home and abroad, for visiting the UK while his country endures the worst monsoon floods in 80 years.

The Pakistani government has said more than 12 million people have been affected by the flooding.

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood accused President Zardari of not having "any empathy or sympathy" with what his people were going through.

Asked in the Newsnight interview about such criticism, Mr Zardari said he was being kept up to date with the situation, but it was the responsibility of Pakistan's prime minister, who was the country's "chief executive".

He had also secured promises of flood relief from Abu Dhabi, France and the UK, which had pledged an extra £20m, while he had been out of the country, he added.

Meanwhile, the Disasters Emergency Committee said the British public had donated £2.5m for flood victims within hours of the TV appeal being broadcast on Thursday night.

'Blunt edge'

President Zardari also dismissed claims that the official policy of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was to back the Taliban as "hearsay and chatter".

He said: "Pakistan has more of the blunt edge of this battle than anyone else.

"We have lost more soldiers than the world put together. I have lost my wife, we have lost workers, my personal friends... so I don't think anybody doubts our intentions on this war, but there can always be weaknesses which need to be strengthened."

He rejected as media "spin" reports that he could not control the ISI. He denied claims that the head of the ISI had been due to join him on his visit to the UK, saying: "He was not supposed to join me."

Asked about comments he made to French newspaper Le Monde, in which he described the war in Afghanistan as a "lost cause", he said defeat was "not an option" either for Pakistan or the world.

But he added: "I feel that the world community needs to do much more."

He said Nato was losing the battle for "hearts and minds", adding that the region needed a cash injection along the lines of the Marshall Plan.

But he denied UK terrorism had roots in his homeland, insisting: "I've always maintained terrorism passes through Pakistan, it doesn't evolve in Pakistan."

Following the "positive and constructive" talks between Mr Cameron and Mr Zardari, Downing Street said the British PM had discussed the situation in both Pakistan and Afghanistan with US President Barack Obama.

Earlier, Mr Zardari's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has accompanied his father on his trip to the UK, denied reports he was about to launch his political career at an event in Birmingham on Saturday.

In a statement, he said: "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."

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