Cameron and Zardari set for standoff

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron will meet with Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari face to face tonight, as the week’s ongoing diplomatic dispute comes to a head.

The pair have clashed over the progress of the struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s attitude towards extremists.

Mr Zardari has said he will “educate” Mr Cameron about the situation in Pakistan after the British prime minister said Pakistan could not “look both ways” in the fight against the Taliban.

Downing Street said Mr Zardari would visit the prime minister’s country seat, Chequers, for an informal private dinner this evening. More formal bilateral talks will then take place at Chequers tomorrow.

The Pakistani president had snubbed an invitation to stay over at Chequers after dinner this evening, the Mail newspaper reported. No 10 said there were no plans for Mr Zardari to be a guest of Mr Cameron.

“The prime minister is looking forward to welcoming President Zardari to Chequers tonight and tomorrow morning,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

“It is an important opportunity to reinforce the strong links between the UK and Pakistan and continue to support stability, security, democracy and prosperity in Pakistan.”

Pakistani sensitivities were affronted last week as Mr Cameron, visiting regional rival India, commented on Wikileaks revelations that Pakistan’s intelligence services had maintained links with the Taliban.

“These links have to remain,” Marie Lall of Chatham House explained this week to politics.co.uk.

“Cameron has shown a total lack of understanding of the reality on the ground.

“There’s no reason why Pakistan would strategically put itself at odds with its neighbour.”

Conservative party chairman Sayeeda Warsi, one of one million British Pakistanis, sought to defend Mr Cameron’s stance in an article for the Sun newspaper.

“What seems to have been lost in the headlines this week is that Pakistan is a friend of the UK,” she wrote.

“And a friendship is meaningless unless you can be honest with each other.”

Baroness Warsi pointed out Britain had offered support for 800,000 people following the recent disastrous flooding in Pakistan.

“Under David Cameron’s leadership, this government will have honest, robust and frank conversations with our friends,” she added.

“Pakistan will be no exception. Straight talking won’t break a relationship based on mutual respect which goes back more than 60 years.”

Baroness Warsi has already met Mr Zardari on his trip. He is meeting home secretary Theresa May and education secretary Michael Gove today.

Tomorrow’s formal talks will cover the international response to flooding in Pakistan, cooperation in countering terrorism and violent extremism, the Pakistani economy and education cooperation and the situation in Afghanistan.