Revealing the division within its ranks, the government struggled all day on Friday to come up with a unified response to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s disparaging terror remarks.
For once the PPP leaders were not just at odds with the military leadership, but also the Foreign Office, led by their party man. The army conveyed its displeasure after the ISI chief cancelled his upcoming visit to UK. After hectic day-long consultations, sources said the final decision was on these lines – President Zardari will go ahead with his visit to UK; ISI chief to call off the trip; and the Foreign Office, which is torn between the political and military cross-currents, to summon a British High Commission official. British Prime Minister Cameron’s remarks in India earlier in the week accusing Pakistan of exporting terror created uproar here with demands for a strong response to the statement.
Mr Cameron, despite protests from Islamabad which described the comments as saddening, and criticism back home, stood by his statement. Diplomatic observers say ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha’s decision to cancel the visit conveyed the disquiet in Pakistan on the issue, even though the president desired to downplay the diplomatic row by sticking to his plan.
Both Mr Zardari and Gen Pasha were to visit UK separately. Mr Zardari is going there on a five-day state visit, while the ISI chief was to visit London for consultations with intelligence counterparts.
The Foreign Office’s failure to announce President’s Zardari’s UK visit along with his visit to France, which are taking place back to back, fuelled speculations that the visit might be cancelled.
However, shortly afterwards it was clear that Mr Zardari was adamant to go ahead in view of what his aides described as “strategic partnership and broader bilateral relations”.
The Foreign Office, which had earlier indicated that British High Commissioner Adam Thomson would be summoned for receiving a demarche, came under intense pressure from the presidency to avoid the course. As a compromise between the FO and the presidency, sources said, the British charge d’affaires is likely to be summoned on Monday, when the high commissioner would be away to UK for President Zardari’s visit.
Officials at the Foreign Office denied any compromise or pressure from the presidency, saying they were considering options for conveying the displeasure. The Foreign Office’s position on the remarks, which followed leaking of US intelligence documents, was very much clear from the media briefing the other day.
A spokesman had termed the remarks ‘biased and unrealistic’. The Foreign Office is looking at WikiLeaks issue and the subsequent international reaction as an attempt by certain quarters for papering over failings of international community in Afghanistan. Behind this wrangling on response to Prime Minister Cameron’s comments is another interesting inconsistency in the country’s approach to its relations with other countries.
Besides UK, Pakistan, after theWikiLeaks, had also come under severe criticism from the US and Afghanistan for ISI’s alleged relations with Taliban and other extremist groups.
US National Security Adviser Gen James Jones had said: “The balance must shift decisively against Al Qaeda and its extremist allies.” US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was more categorical in his comments: “There have been elements of the ISI that have got relationships with extremist organisations, and we consider that unacceptable.”
But no one is ready to take note of these statements and everyone is taking solace in the ‘US government’s acknowledgement of Pakistan’s contribution to the war on terror’. Even the ISI chief, who cancelled his UK trip, would be soon visiting Washington as part of a series of meetings with his American counterparts.
On the US, both political and military leaders look to be on the same page and accept the Obama administration’s clarification that it had no role in the leaks. Contrastingly, Afghan President Hamid Karzai came under harsh criticism for his terror comments. Mr Karzai’s remarks are being described as ‘incomprehensible’.
Pakistan’s Ambassador in Kabul, Mr Muhammad Sadiq, has been asked to seek an explanation from the Afghan government. A senior diplomat, explaining variations in the response to criticism by three different countries, said it was a ‘reflection of the power politics’.