David Cameron and Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari show united front on terrorism

British and Pakistani leaders make joint statement about counterterrorism after two weeks of diplomatic tension

David Cameron and the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, agreed today to regular top-level meetings between intelligence officials as the two leaders tried to put behind them claims by Cameron that Pakistan faced two ways on terrorism.

After hour-long formal talks in Chequers that came at the end of two weeks of diplomatic tension, Cameron declared the relationship between the two countries was "unbreakable". Making a joint statement with Zardari, Cameron said they would work together to "make progress" on trade, education and combating terrorism, the latter "a real priority for my government".

"The president and I have been talking about what we see as an unbreakable relationship between Britain and Pakistan based on our mutual interests," he said. "Above all 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."

Cameron will make a visit to Islamabad within the next six months.

Zardari said he was grateful to the UK and the prime minister "for their support in the floods affecting [Pakistan]. I'm looking forward to a relationship where Britain supports Pakistan around the world." He also said that Cameron had told him he would try to help Pakistan gain access to markets in the EU and US.

"This is a friendship that will never break, no matter what happens," he said. "Storms will come and storms will go but 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."

It was agreed that counterterrorism co-operation should be intensified. It is expected that Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defence staff, Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, and Cameron's national security adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts, will meet their Pakistani counterparts in an attempt to ease suspicions that elements in Islamabad's intelligence agencies are supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Theresa May, the home secretary, will visit Pakistan in the autumn.

It was also agreed that Britain and Pakistan will hold an annual summit at leader level, with finance and Home Office ministers involved in this new strategic dialogue. Pakistan will be pleased with the outcome after it became concerned that Britain was going to run a pro-India policy that might damage Pakistan's interests.

The two sides also discussed the military situation in Afghanistan. It is believed that Zardari raised concerns that the coalition is losing the battle for hearts and minds, as well as his belief that setting a 2015 deadline for the departure of British troops will only encourage the Taliban to hang on.

The two men declined to hold a joint press conference following the meeting, confining their remarks to the brief statement outside Chequers at the end of the talks. The lack of a press conference reflects fears that Zardari would voice his anger at Cameron's remarks last week in India.

A formal joint statement was punctilious in praising the role Pakistan has played in fighting terrorism, saying: "The two leaders discussed the role being played by the democratic government in fighting against terrorism. The prime minister recognised 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. Both leaders appreciated the close co-operation that already exists between respective police forces and other security agencies."

Cameron also said that the two would be planting a tree at Chequers in honour of Zardari's assassinated wife, the former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Cameron caused anger in Islamabad last week when during a trip to India, with which Pakistan has fought four wars since partition, he said that elements in Pakistan should not be allowed to "promote the export of terror, whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world".

His remarks came days after US military reports published on the WikiLeaks website and in the Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel detailed concerns that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency had aided Taliban militants fighting in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's spy chief, Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, cancelled a trip to Britain in protest at Cameron's remarks. The row has raised fears of reduced intelligence co-operation between London and Islamabad.

Zardari is due in Birmingham tomorrow, where he will host a rally of his Pakistan People's party and speak to members of the Pakistani community about the issues facing the country.

There had been reports that he would use the gathering to boost the political career of his 21-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who was expected to follow in the footsteps of his mother, Benazir Bhutto. But Bhutto Zardari announced that he would spend tomorrow working to help the victims of the country's devastating floods, whom his father has been accused of neglecting.

The announcement came amid criticism of Zardari for going ahead with the trip rather than staying at home to manage the disaster, which is thought to have claimed 1,600 lives and affected 4 million people.

"I will not even be attending the [Birmingham] event and instead I will be opening a donation point at the Pakistani high commission in London for victims of the terrible floods which have ravaged northern Pakistan," Bhutto Zardari said in a statement last night.

The Oxford graduate also played down speculation over his political future, adding that he intended to further his academic and political knowledge and was considering studying law.


Patrick Wintour and Paul Owen

The GuardianTramp

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