by Con Coughlin
Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s executive foreign editor, is a world-renowned expert on the Middle East and Islamic terrorism. He is the author of several critically acclaimed books. His new book, Khomeini’s Ghost, is published by Macmillan.
An army helicopter overflies Pakistani soldiers in the upper Swat Valley last year (Photo: AP)
What is this? Open season on Pakistan? Ok, so the Pakistanis can be immensely frustrating to deal with, and have not always, as the recent Wikileaks documents have shown, been the most reliable of allies. But that was then, when the country languished under the dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf, who was reluctant to act against the Taliban.
But following the country’s return to democracy, Pakistan has become a valued and effective ally in the war on terror, and has suffered immeasurably more casualties than Nato as its military has gone head-to-head with the Taliban in the lawless tribal territory to the north of the country. For this reason David Cameron should be praising Pakistan’s contribution, rather than castigating Islamabad as he has done during his visit to neighbouring India.
Mr Cameron might revel in his “Cameron direct” approach, but he risks alienating a great many of this country’s important allies unless he learns to balance his plain speaking with some good old-fashioned common sense. It is a long time since a serving British prime minister has managed to cause two major diplomatic incidents during an overseas jaunt, but Mr Cameron has managed precisely that during this week’s visit to Turkey and India.
His comment about the Gaza “prison” provoked an outraged response from the Israeli Embassy in London, while his patronising treatment of Pakistan has now elicited a similar response from the Pakistani High Commission.
No doubt Mr Cameron and his advisors think that this policy will pay dividends because, at the very least, it is generating lots of headlines and helping to raise Mr Cameron’s international profile. But at what price? This country’s overwhelming national security issue to resolve the Afghan conflict, and I fail to see how our prospects in the war will be improved by causing serious offence to one of our major allies in the war.