David Cameron has risked inflaming international relations after suggesting Pakistan is promoting the ‘export of terror’ in Afghanistan and around the world.
In words which will be greeted with alarm in Islamabad, the Prime Minister also suggested that Pakistan had links with terrorist groups, and was guilty of double dealing by aligning itself with both the West and the forces it was opposing.
Mr Cameron’s attack will be even more unwelcome given that he was speaking during a visit to India, Pakistan’s neighbour and great military rival.
During a question and answer session following a speech in Bangalore, he was asked by a member of the audience why the United Kingdom and the United States were pouring money into Pakistan, given suggestions that it was linked to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Members of the Taliban are also feared to be receiving semi-official succour from Pakistan.
Mr Cameron said that the issue was one that he was extremely concerned about, adding that he had already discussed the problem with US President Barack Obama and would do so also with Manmohan Singh, his Indian counterpart.
He then went on: “We should be very, very clear with Pakistan that we want to see a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan.
“We can not tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.
“That is why this relationship is important. It should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror.
“Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and the UK is very clear on that point.”
Mr Cameron’s words followed an already-robust warning for Pakistan in his speech.
He was applauded warmly as he told the audience of workers at a technology firm: “When it comes to protecting our people, we can not overlook what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We – like you – want a Pakistan that is stable, democratic and free from terror.
“We – like you – want an Afghanistan that is secure, free from interference from its neighbours and not a threat to our security.
“We – like you – are determined that groups like the Taliban, the Haqqani network or Lakshar e Taiba should not be allowed to launch attacks on
Indian and British citizens in India or in Britain.
“Nor against our people, whether soldiers or civilians, from both our countries who are working for peace in Afghanistan.”
Lakshar e Taiba is a Pakistan-based terrorist group which opposes Indian rule in Kashmir, while the Haqqani network has close links to the Taliban.
Downing Street said that there had been a “historic” issue about elements within the Pakistan government which had links to terrorist groups, which ministers in Islamabad had themselves acknowledged.
Later, Mr Cameron appeared to soften his strong line, insisting that he had only meant to suggest that any support for terrorism from “within Pakistan” was unacceptable.
He told Radio 4’s Today Programme: “I choose my words very carefully. It is unacceptable for any support to come from within Pakistan.”
Aides to the Prime Minister said he had never been talking about the Pakistani government.
His message had been that the Pakistani government did need to do more to crack down on terror groups, they added.