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Cameron's new diplomacy brings problems with Pakistan

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

image captionMr Cameron has not been afraid to speak his mind during his early forays abroad

The British Prime Minister David Cameron has invented a new diplomacy - go to one country and criticise another.

In Turkey he accused Israel of allowing Gaza to become a "prison camp" and in the United States he downgraded his own country to that of a "junior partner".

Those remarks will have their own effects - the first pleasing in Turkey, displeasing in Israel, and the second an overdue recognition of reality, perhaps.

It is his comment about Pakistan in India that has caused the real stir.

In telling an Indian audience that "we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror" he trod on, to say the least, delicate territory.

Some would say he blundered. The former British foreign secretary, David Miliband, says there is a difference between being a straight talker and a "loudmouth" and that Mr Cameron ignored the position of Pakistan itself as a target for Taliban terror.

Mr Cameron says he was speaking plainly.

But the incident has led to the cancellation of a visit to Britain of senior Pakistani intelligence officials and made the comments, rather than the potential for cooperation, the central talking point of a visit to London by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari this week.

Play both sides?

What David Cameron said was not particularly new or revealing. It was why, when and where he spoke that was interesting.

American and British officials have for long claimed that Pakistan, through its intelligence agency the ISI, has acted ambivalently.

The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said of the Pakistanis last year "to a certain extent, they play both sides".

A paper, written by a senior officer at the British Defence Academy in 2006, claimed: "Indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism - whether in London on 7/7 or in Afghanistan or Iraq."

The recent Wikileaks revelations of operational documents from the Afghan war appear to show evidence, or at least beliefs, that ISI agents helped the Taliban.

One report alleges that they helped develop a network of suicide bombers in 2006.

Another claims that the ISI wanted to use a remote-controlled bomb disguised as a golden Koran to assassinate President Karzai. These reports of course cannot be substantiated.

Kashmir connection

image captionDavid Cameron spent two days in India hoping to make the UK its "partner of choice"

It is said that the ISI has maintained the links it developed with the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan since the anti-Soviet days and has not acted strongly against Pakistani groups which used violence - including attacks such as the one in Mumbai in 2008 - to further their cause of Indian withdrawal from Kashmir.

What Mr Cameron did not say was that Pakistan seems to have realised that it too is now vulnerable to the Taliban.

It has suffered numerous suicide-bomb attacks and has in response turned its army loose in the insurgent-controlled regions along the Afghan border.

The Kashmir connection is vital for the UK as it provides one of the motivations for radical thinking among young Islamists in Britain.

Indeed, the Indians are so sensitive about any mention of Kashmir by foreign governments that they jump on any criticism, open or implied.

The then British foreign secretary Robin Cook found that out in 1997 when he simply mentioned that Britain would mediate if asked by both sides and the Indians were furious at him for even raising the issue.

One side-effect of Mr Cameron's new opening to India is that any such criticism by Britain of India over Kashmir will now be suppressed and in fact we saw the opposite - criticism of Pakistan.

Which raises the point - do you further your diplomatic aims by openness or by discretion?

Sometimes you are bold, of course. Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan did not further their aims of ending communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe by being discreet.

Mr Cameron also chose, in this case, to be open.

It will be interesting to see if he continues this approach to diplomacy as his prime ministry develops.

More on this story

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