Pakistan and Britain have pledged to further strengthen mutual ties after a meeting between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari today.
The two were aiming to smooth over a dispute triggered by Cameron's recent remarks that Pakistan was turning a blind eye toward the "export" of terrorism.
The two leaders were all smiles, though, before television cameras after formal talks at the prime minister’s Chequers country house outside London.
Pakistan had protested Cameron's comments, made during a trip to India, and Zardari pledged to “educate” Cameron. Zardari’s suggestion in a recent interview that the international community is losing the war of "hearts and minds" in Afghanistan stirred even more controversy.
But speaking to journalists after today's talks, Cameron described their meeting as "excellent" and pledged to further strengthen what he called the two countries' “unbreakable” bilateral relationship.
"What we've been talking about is our strategic partnership and how we can deepen and enhance that partnership to make sure we deal with all the issues where we want to see progress, whether that is in trade, whether it's in education, and also in the absolutely vital area of combating terrorism," Cameron said.
But Shahed Sadullah, a London-based Pakistan analyst, says that despite the warm gestures, the meeting has not removed doubts about Pakistan's role in the war on terror.
Zardari, Sadullah argues, could not have offered anything new because of his weak domestic standing. "Cooperation with the [Pakistani] Army and the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence agency] is the business end of this cooperation on antiterrorist measures. Anything that Zardari says or does, these are just the trappings above," he says.
"This is not the meat of the situation because who is actually fighting the war on terror? It is the army and the ISI. They are the ones who are in the forefront. And therefore, the nitty-gritty on this has to come from those agencies."
Sadullah suggests it is telling that General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI, canceled his scheduled trip to London last weekend because the Pakistani security establishment was infuriated by Cameron's comments in India.
The mood in London today, however, was of fence-mending. A joint statement after the meeting said that mutual cooperation will be further strengthened in a comprehensive strategic dialogue between the leaders of the two nations.
It said the prime minister "recognized the sacrifices made by Pakistan's military, civil law enforcement agencies and people in fighting violent extremism and militancy and appreciated the efforts of the democratic government” -- a further attempt to end the controversies over Cameron.s remarks in India.
Zardari, too, said that the relationship between the two countries was strong and could withstand the test of time.
"It's a friendship which will never break, no matter what happens," Zardari said. "Storms will come and storms will go and Pakistan and Britain will stand together and face all the difficulties with dignity and we will make sure that the world is a better place for our coming generations tomorrow."
Floods Cast Pall
Storms of a different sort cast another pall over this visit. Zardari has faced criticism at home for making the trip as Pakistan struggles to deal with the worst flooding in its history.
And this, analyst Sadullah argues, will further undermine Zardari back home. "I have really tried to see what possible political benefit could President Zardari derive from this trip," he says. "And I have not been able to come up with a single answer. Every shade of political opinion in Pakistan except Mr. Zardari's own party is against it."
In an attempt to deflect such criticism Zardari has tried to add collecting aid for the flood victims a priority of his trip.
While the British leader pledged more aid for Pakistan's flood victims, Zardari said he hoped that London will also back its efforts to open European markets for Pakistani exports.
Cameron also accepted Zardari's invitation for an early visit to Pakistan.
The two sides also agreed to further enhance cooperation between their security agencies. The foreign and interior ministers of the two countries are expected to meet in joint working groups and strategic dialogue sessions this fall.
with agency reports