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26 May 2024

Miliband in Pakistan for talks on extremism


British Foreign Secretary David Miliband met on Friday with key Pakistani leaders, one day after urging Islamabad to show "zero tolerance" toward militant groups blamed for the Mumbai attacks.

Miliband went directly into talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi upon his arrival from India, officials from both countries said.

He was expected to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani before departing on Saturday, a Pakistani foreign ministry official told AFP.

The British foreign secretary was also scheduled to call on influential former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party rules Pakistan's political heartland of Punjab province, the official said.

Miliband's visit comes one month after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged £6 million (Dh33m) to help Pakistan tackle militancy during his own visit to Islamabad.

Both Brown and Miliband have said that London has a vested interest in coming to Islamabad's aid, as the majority of terror plots investigated by British authorities in London have links back to Pakistan.

Though Miliband is sure to address a range of issues related to the fight against extremism, officials said the meetings here would likely focus on the simmering tensions between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks.

New Delhi has blamed the banned Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is fighting Indian rule in divided Kashmir, for the November bloodbath in Mumbai, which left 174 people dead including nine gunmen.

Islamabad has said it is doing all that it can to crack down on militant groups, announcing Thursday that it has so far detained more than 70 members of an Islamic charity linked to Lashkar and placed 124 others under surveillance.

"We are very, very serious" about fighting extremism, Pakistani interior ministry chief Rehman Malik told a press conference on Thursday.

Islamabad has confirmed that the lone surviving Mumbai gunman is a Pakistani citizen.

In a speech on Thursday at the Taj hotel in India's financial centre, one of the locations targeted in the attacks, Miliband called on Pakistan to show no mercy towards such groups.

"We know the attacks were carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba operating from the territory of Pakistan," Miliband said. "There must be zero tolerance towards such organisations."

On Tuesday in New Delhi, he also restated London's view that the government in Islamabad did not direct the attacks, despite Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's claim that the militants had the support of "some official agencies".

India and Pakistan have engaged in a series of tit-for-tat accusations since the Mumbai attacks, with each side saying the other is guilty of whipping up "war hysteria".

India's army chief said Wednesday that he regarded war as a "last resort" but reiterated that New Delhi was keeping all of its options open, including the military option.

Pakistani officials said in late December that some troops had been shifted away from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where they are fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda linked militants, to the eastern border with India.

But the officials described the troop movements as "limited".