Don’t go to Britain, opposition parties tell Zardari

By Awais Saleem, IANS,

Islamabad : Controversy surrounds Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Britain, with the opposition urging that it be cancelled following British Prime Minister David Cameron’s remark that the “country must stop exporting terror” and a minister here saying Zardari was paying for it from his own pocket.

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Zardari is scheduled to meet Cameron during his six-day visit commencing Aug 3 in the first meeting of both dignitaries since the new British premier assumed office.

For Zardari, a more important element of the visit seems to be a rally by supporters of his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Birminghman Aug 7 that could be the political launch pad of his son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, who has just graduated from Oxford.

Pakistan’s main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) made the cancellation demand in a veiled manner.

PML-N chief and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said during a visit to the flood-hit town of Noshehra in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Sunday that the deaths and emergency situation made it unreasonable for the president to undertake a foreign trip at this crucial juncture.

Sharif’s brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the president should cancel his visit and spend the money allocated for his trip on the flood-affected people across Pakistan.

This prompted Zardari’s close aide and federal Law Minister Babar Awan to take a swipe at the Sharif brothers, saying that they had properties in Britain worth millions of pounds which should be sold to help those in distress back home.

“The president is not going on a pleasure trip to Britain like Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif,” he contended.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain also demanded the president to call off the visit to condemn Cameron’s statement.

Cricketer-turned-politician and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf chairman Imran Khan accused Zardari and Nawaz Sharif of not openly condemning the statement of British premier because their properties and other political stakes were involved.

The foreign office has also protested Cameron’s remarks. On Monday, the British high commissioner was summoned to explain the remarks and this could cast a shadow over the Zardari-Cameron meeting.

The News daily has carried a report regarding the expenses to be incurred on the visit, alleging it would be one of the most expensive trips ever undertaken by a Pakistani head of state.

Federal Minister for Commerce Makhdoom Amin Faheen on the other hand, denied that it was an official trip. He said the president was going abroad to attend personal engagements and would pay for it from his own pocket.

Pakistan’s high commission in London reinforced this Sunday.

The press and information department, in a release, said the president will “visit Birmingham by car” to economise.

It added: “The hall booked by the High Commission is the cheapest hall available at a very special discounted price. Pakistan Peoples Party will bear expenses for the vans carrying the party activists to the community meeting. All ministers and senior members of the party have been instructed to pay their bills themselves.”