UK PM David Cameron was Sunday accused of being a “loudmouth” by David Miliband, the former foreign secretary, over his claims that elements of the Pakistani state are responsible for exporting terrorism abroad.
Miliband rounded on Cameron’s comments, claiming there was a “big difference between straight-talking and being a loudmouth”.
Miliband said everyone had “two ears and one mouth” and it was important to use them “in that proportion” when it came to foreign policy.
While Pakistan must go “further and faster” in dealing with the terrorism that has been launched from its own midst, it was also important to recognise how much Pakistan itself has suffered from the terrorism that afflicts the whole of south Asia, said Miliband, who insisted that he was not seeking to score points as part of his leadership bid.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “It is very, very important that the prime minister, who in three unscripted appearances at press conferences has gone off script … understands that we have got two ears and one mouth and it is very important to use them in that proportion.”
Cameron dismissed fears that his comments risked overshadowing a visit next week by President Asif Ali Zardari.
“I don’t think it’s overshadowed anything,” he said. “I think it’s important to speak frankly and clearly about these issues. I have always done that in the past and will do so in the future.”
The prime minister insisted that he had been talking about “people within Pakistan” who launch terrorist attacks abroad rather than its government.
A furious diplomatic row erupted between London and Islamabad after Cameron’s comments, when he warned that Pakistan could no longer “look both ways” by tolerating terrorism while demanding respect as a democracy.
Angry responses followed from Pakistani officials in the UK and the foreign ministry in Islamabad.
Pakistan took the rare step of issuing an official rebuttal. Abdul Basit, a spokesman for the Pakistani foreign ministry, told Radio 4’s World at One: “There is no question of Pakistan looking the other way. I think the prime minister was referring to these reports, which are unverifiable and outdated. If we start drawing inferences from these self-serving reports, then obviously we are distracting ourselves.”
Downing Street insisted the prime minister was not accusing Pakistan’s government of sponsoring terrorism. But a few minutes after his speech, Cameron made clear that official agencies in Pakistan were responsible for harbouring terrorists.
Asked on the Today programme whether Pakistan exports terrorism, Cameron said: “I choose my words very carefully. It is unacceptable for anything to happen within Pakistan that is about supporting terrorism elsewhere. 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.” – Agencies