"Big play" is right. British Labor and the foreign office were running around like chickens with their heads cut off because of Mahatma Dave's statement about Pakistan. Even Lord Tebbit, former Conservative party chairman, took a whack at him for dissing Islamabad:
"I called it sloppy, slap-happy government. It is time for some disciplined thought and disciplined action. Being a prime minister is a serious business."You bet it's serious, and for that reason I'm happy to pass along news that David Cameron is hanging tough:
"I gave a pretty clear and frank answer to a clear and frank question, and I don't regret that at all. It is important to speak frankly about these things while at the same time – as I did in India – recognising that in Pakistan they themselves have suffered terribly from terrorism."For readers who were spelunking last week, Britain's Prime Minister set off an uproar when he said in India:
"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, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world."Press and bloggers on both sides of the Pond breathlessly reported on Pakistan's outrage about the remark and the fallout, which included a crowd of Pakistanis burning Dave in effigy and marching in the streets, the ISI canceling their attendance at an important upcoming meeting in London about terrorism, rumors that the British high commissioner in Islamabad had been summoned for a dressing down, and that President Zardari was reconsidering his meeting with Cameron.
Today the Daily Telegraph's Deputy Editor Benedict Brogan poured cold water on the hysteria by sifting the chaff from the grain. So maybe now U.S. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates can get off all fours:
The Foreign Office should relax, Pakistan knows David Cameron is rightZardari is going through the motions of protesting Carmeron's remark; he said today:
Pakistan’s anger at David Cameron and his remarks about terrorism are getting great play ahead of president Asif Ali Zardari’s visit. The Telegraph details today the real purpose of his appearance in Britain, namely to promote the political interests of his Pakistan People’s Party and his son Bilawal, who is being lined up to succeed him. There’s a big rally in Birmingham on Saturday (sorry, no cameras apparently). Which helps to explain why the visit wasn’t cancelled as some demanded: the dinner at Chequers on Friday was always incidental.
But I gather the reality is even less dramatic than we realised. For a start, the British high commissioner in Islamabad wasn’t ordered in for a meeting and what talks did take place were fairly amicable.
Better still, British diplomats point out that what Mr Cameron might have suggested about Pakistan’s equivocal relationship with terrorists is as nothing compared to what Mr Zardari had to say about the ISI when Benazir Bhutto was killed.
“He all but accused Pakistan and its intelligence agencies of colluding with the terrorists who killed his wife. He’s an even harsher critic than we are,” one official tells me.
“The Foreign Office is running around in a panic apologising to everyone, when actually the PM meant what he said.”
One more clue that tells us this is temporary hysteria rather than fundamental crisis: Pakistan made big play of cancelling a planned meeting between the head of its ISI spy agency and its British counterparts. Which would be worrying, except…no such meeting was due to take place. They made up a meeting, then cancelled it. Cue much chortling, and some sneaking admiration, here in London.
"The war against terrorism must unite us and not oppose us. I will explain face to face [in his meeting with Cameron] that it is my country that is paying the highest price in human life for this war. ..."However, I recall that shortly after he became president many Pakistanis accused Zardari of being a girly man for suggesting that Pakistan offer an olive branch to India. It could turn out that recent revelations about the Pakistani military's double dealing on terrorism will help Zardari's government stand up to the country's military. We'll see.
Meanwhile, the U.S. diplomatic and defense establishments need to stop making fawning remarks about Pakistan's military; at the least they should maintain an arch public silence in response to press questions about the military's perfidy, instead of defending it; that is, if Washington is serious about wanting to see civilian government strengthened in Pakistan.