WikiLeaks Fallout David Cameron's Remarks Arouse Fury in Pakistan
British Prime Minister David Cameron has caused a furor in Pakistan by claiming it supports terrorists. Islamabad vehemently rejects the charge and accuses the West of blindly believing the WikiLeaks war logs.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has not been afraid to say what he thinks during a string of recent foreign trips, including calling Gaza a "prison camp" during a visit to Turkey. Now, his latest bit of plain speaking has sparked something of a diplomatic spat with Pakistan.
He offended Islamabad with comments made on Wednesday in, of all places, Pakistan's archenemy India. Speaking to an audience in the city of Bangalore, Cameron said: "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world."
Cameron later told the BBC that he had chosen his words carefully. "It is unacceptable for anything to happen within Pakistan that is supporting terrorism elsewhere," he said, adding: "It is well-documented that that has been the case in the past, and we have to make sure that the Pakistan authorities are not looking two ways. They must only look one way, and that is to a democratic and stable Pakistan."
His words have not gone down well in Pakistan, a country that is officially Britain's ally in the war on terror. Cameron was speaking just days after the publication of leaked US military documents relating to the war in Afghanistan on the Internet platform WikiLeaks and in three media outlets, including SPIEGEL. According to the so-called war logs, the US suspects that Pakistan is providing terrorists with a haven and that the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI is training insurgents and supplying them with weapons. According to one memo, the ISI was even involved in a plot to assassinate the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
'Immature Reaction from an Immature Politician'
Western diplomats, including ones from Britain, have often broached their concerns that Pakistan is playing a double game: on the one side backing the West, and on the other supporting the terrorists. But for a British prime minister to openly state such a concern is highly unusual. And his words will have delighted India, which has long accused Pakistan of exporting terror, including the attacks on Mumbai in November 2008.
The reaction from the Pakistani government has been fast and furious. Abdul Basit, spokesman for Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Pakistan was by no means engaged in a double game. "I assume the British prime minister has come to the idea of expressing himself this way because of the US documents. Yet these papers are based on unnamed sources. Do we really want our relationship to be based on this kind of foundation?"
Pakistan's ambassador to London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, has accused Cameron of damaging the prospects of regional peace with his remarks. "One would have hoped that the British prime minister would have considered Pakistan's enormous role in the war on terror and the sacrifices it has made since 9/11," he wrote in the Guardian. Hasan said that Cameron seemed to place more trust in "information based on intelligence leaks, despite it lacking credibility or corroborating proof." Speaking to the Associated Press, the ambassador said that the comments were an "immature reaction from an immature politician."
Cameron, at 43 Britain's youngest prime minister in two centuries, defended his remarks on Thursday. "I think it's important to speak frankly about the problems as you see them," he told the BBC, adding: "I think that is what people expect of their government." And he recognized that the Pakistan government had made progress in chasing down militants and terrorists that threaten both Pakistan and other countries. "But we need them to do more."
Meanwhile his office back at Downing Street has been trying to placate Islamabad, stating that Cameron was not accusing the Pakistani government itself of supporting terrorism.
'Malicious Campaign' to Tarnish Pakistan
The core of the dispute is not just about how reliable Pakistan may be as a partner in the war on terror, but also about the significance of the war logs published by WikiLeaks. The Pakistani government regards them and their publication as a "malicious campaign launched by certain quarters to tarnish the standing and image of Pakistani state institutions, including the security forces and the ISI."
A government statement issued on Wednesday said that the "baseless reports by some low level and biased operatives publicized by WikiLeaks are misleading and evidently self-serving to justify collective failings of the international community in Afghanistan." It argued that Pakistan had made innumerable sacrifices in the fight against terror.
It is true that the Pakistani army has been waging war against domestic extremists since early 2009, a conflict in which more than 3,000 soldiers are deployed. The Taliban has repeatedly carried out suicide attacks and bombings within Pakistan and the attacks are by no means confined to foreigners or non-Muslims. They target soldiers, students and schoolchildren, as well as worshipers in mosques -- in short, almost every sector of Pakistani society. The government, therefore, is sensitive to suggestions that it might be playing a double game and secretly supporting the terrorists. The former ISI chief and retired General Hamid Gul, who was named frequently in the US documents as a supporter of terror, has slammed the war logs as "rubbish" and a "silly fairy tale."
In private, high-ranking Pakistani officials are blaming Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the NDS, for the criticism. "Most of the information US soldiers have gathered comes from the Afghan intelligence agents," one politician told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The NDS has traditionally had poor relations with Pakistan and is resentful of its neighbor's major influence in the country.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, has reached its own conclusions from the WikiLeaks documents. On Thursday, President Karzai asked at a press conference why the allies had done so little against the terrorists in Pakistan. This was, after all, the source of the financing and training of the Taliban, he said, adding that the Western troops should once and for all attack the extremists' positions in Pakistan.
"The international community is here to fight terrorism," he said. "But there is danger elsewhere and they are not acting."