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David Cameron taking a wild swing with British foreign policy

2010 July 29
by Paul Vallely

There have been those who have suggested that David Cameron has been incautious in his utterances in foreign countries in recent days. A Pakistani diplomat yesterday suggested it may have been a “slip of the tongue” for the British Prime Minister to have accused certain Pakistani authorities of giving covert support to terrorists. Commentators have suggested that perhaps he has yet to find his feet on the world stage when it comes to understanding the niceties of diplomatic affairs.

But Mr Cameron has chosen his words with deliberation. All he has said in India and in Turkey fits perfectly with the post-election foreign policy manifesto which William Hague set out at the start of the month. What is clear is that the Government wants to prioritise business and economic considerations and improve relations with nations like China, Brazil and India which will offer big new trading opportunities to the UK in the future.  Mr Cameron has given pride of place to announcing a £700m deal between British and Indian aerospace companies. This shift in emphasis is good sense but the Prime Minister must be careful to maintain a sense of balance between Britain’s economic and its strategic interests.

His warnings about Pakistani ambivalence to terrorism may have been music to the ears of those he was trying to woo in Delhi. And he said pretty much everything his hosts in Ankara wanted to hear about Islam, the Kurds, the case for Turkish membership of the European and the unacceptability of the Israeli attack on the international relief convoy to Gaza in which nine Turks died. It was there that he went further than any other British PM by describing Gaza as “a prison camp”.

But there are dangers in saying so fully what his hosts want to hear. His remarks on sections of the Pakistani security services have caused fury in Islamabad with officials describing them as crude, self-serving and unverifiable and accusing him of “damaging the prospects of regional peace”. The prime minister’s calculation is probably that this matters less than his “jobs mission” to India. He wants British troops out of Afghanistan and has set the wheels in motion. That is to the good.

But those wheels turn slowly and in the meantime our troops’ lives are at risk in Afghanistan. The goodwill and co-operation of the Pakistani security services is a desideratum in that. Mr Cameron should remember that Britain has strategic interests as well as economic ones. In making new friends it is wise not to be seen to scorn old ones.

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