British Prime Minister David Cameron flew into Pakistan for talks on Tuesday, seeking a “fresh start” in relations with Islamabad, nine months after accusing it of turning a blind eye to terrorism.
In his first trip to the nuclear-armed Muslim country since taking office in May 2010, the premier hopes to soothe tensions caused by his remarks during a visit to India last July, according to a pre-released extract of his speech.
The British leader touched down at the Pakistan Air Force base of Chaklala in the garrison city of Rawalpindi at around 6:30 am (0130 GMT) ahead of a packed day of talks in the capital Islamabad.
“Let’s today make a fresh start in our relationship. It is time for a new step in relations between Britain and Pakistan and between Britons and Pakistanis,” Cameron will tell an audience of university students.
“Let’s make this the start of a new era in the relations between our countries, our governments, our peoples.”
“Let’s clear up the misunderstandings of the past, work through the tensions of the present and look together to the opportunities of the future.”
During a trade visit to the Indian city of Bangalore in July last year, Cameron said Pakistan could not be allowed to “look both ways”, promoting the export of terror while publicly working for stability in the region.
British officials said the comments were not directed at the Pakistan government, but Islamabad summoned Britain’s representative for clarification.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited London the following month, and the two leaders insisted their relations were “unbreakable” and promised to intensify intelligence sharing between the two countries.
Cameron will repeat this on Tuesday, saying: “The unbreakable partnership must not just be between our two governments. It must be between our peoples too.”
He adds: “We want a strong relationship with a secure, prosperous, open and flourishing Pakistan. We want that relationship for the long-term. We want to work to strengthen that relationship, now and in the future.”
Cameron will meet Zardari during his one-day visit and also hold talks with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, officials said.
He will be accompanied by a high-level delegation including the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, John Sawers, and the head of the British military, Chief of the Defence Staff David Richards.
The talks come amid the backdrop of an upsurge of violence in neighbouring Afghanistan, where violent protests against the burning of a Koran by a US pastor have killed at least 22 people, including seven foreign UN staff.
Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan as part of an international coalition fighting Taliban insurgents, but Cameron has said he wants all British combat soldiers to be out of the country by 2015.
On his way to Pakistan, Cameron made a surprise visit on Monday to the base in Gioia del Colle, southern Italy, from where British jets enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya are operating, and announced four more jets for the mission.
He said Britain would deploy the new Tornados “in the next couple of days” to boost the NATO-led mission designed to protect civilians from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi who are fighting to put down an eastern revolt.
In his first trip to the base since the operation, Cameron said the British jets had saved “literally thousands of lives” in Libya.