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Pakistan's Zardari Seeks British Help On Afghan Border Issue

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is holding talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his first meeting with a Western leader since taking office on September 9.

The two leaders are expected to discuss the recent increase in cross-border incursions by U.S. forces against alleged insurgent targets in Pakistan near the Afghan border.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner to Britain, told RFE/RL that although Zardari is visiting Britain privately and his meeting with Brown will be "informal and private," counterterrorism will be high on the agenda.

"Terrorism and extremism...are the problems on which both Britain and Pakistan have been cooperating," Hasan said. "And Mr. Zardari, as the leader of the Pakistan People's Party and president of Pakistan, has a certain vision of his own, certain plans of his own, to combat terrorism. So he is going to unfold [his plan] with Mr. Brown and discuss it with him -- how to go about it and effectively counter terrorism."

An article in Britain's "The Guardian" newspaper on September 16 outlined Zardari's plan, stating that the president is promoting a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that aims to expand the singular focus on military operations to include diplomacy, regional cooperation, political and administrative reforms, and economic development.

According to "The Guardian" report, Zardari is proposing a British-led international consortium to reconstruct Pakistan's tribal areas, where extremists have gained a strong foothold during the past seven years. He has also proposed compensation for the families of those who are killed or injured in terrorist attacks.

Pakistan's elite still looks to Britain, the country's former colonial ruler, as a dependable ally and mentor. Hasan said that Zardari will request Brown's help in convincing the United States to give his new government some breathing space so it can implement its new antiterrorism strategy as well as measures to stop Pakistan's economic slide.

"The recent incidents of [U.S.] bombings have been very disappointing, because they did not make any significant tactical gain but they created a lot of animosity both against the government as well as against Americans and the West," Hasan said. "So Mr. Zardari will also bring these things to [Brown's] attention. And probably, Mr. Brown would make his point of view clear to the Americans as well."

The majority of Britain's 2 million Muslims are of Pakistani origin, and Islamabad has been closely working with London to trace extremists within this community following the July 7, 2005, suicide attacks on London's transport system that killed 52 commuters. Three of the four suicide bombers involved in those attacks were British citizens of Pakistani origin. In return for its cooperation, Pakistan expects Britain to use its influence in Washington to deflect the increasing U.S. military pressure along its western borderlands.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. ​