UK-Pakistan relations ‘recovering’

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron’s blunt comments questioning Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorists are being overcome by diplomats’ efforts, William Hague has told MPs.

The foreign secretary said cooperation between Britain and Pakistan on counter-terrorism issues had “substantially improved in recent times” during an evidence session with MPs.

He told the Commons’ foreign affairs committee that a “sharply increased willingness” to fight insurgency “in all its forms” had been noted – including from Pakistan’s ISI intelligence services.

The prime minister said in July that Britain would not tolerate the idea that Pakistan could “look both ways”.

Mr Hague told MPs this afternoon: “It was said at the time that [Mr Cameron’s remarks] had damaged relations with Pakistan. In recent months relations have been excellent.

“If there was disquiet in the Pakistani government about that, it has been more than overcome by the work which has been done since then.”

Mr Cameron received criticism after doubting Pakistan’s determination to confront the Taliban, which uses its mountainous border regions of the federally autonomous tribal areas as a base over the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK said the prime minister had damaged the “prospects of regional peace” but Mr Cameron refused to tone down his rhetoric, subsequently insisting that “we need them to do more”.

The foreign secretary was forced to concede by Labour MP Mike Gapes that the Pakistani government’s cooperation was not as “unconditional” as it could be, however.

“Those things can be quite difficult to assess,” Mr Hague replied.

“It’s often hard to be sure whether a country is giving all the cooperation and information it could be. But we have no current reason for complaint about that and cooperation has improved.”

President Asif Ali Zardari has consistently complained that western countries are not making sophisticated military equipment available to his country, following the misuse to which arms were put by the Taliban after the ousting of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.

“The sale of technology from this country is very carefully controlled,” Mr Hague added.

“We will look from a friendly country at all requests but I’m sure you understand how carefully these are controlled.”

Britain has to comply with the EU’s export regime on arms exports. A Ministry of Defence review on what help can be given to Pakistan “across the board” is currently underway, however.