Pakistani President Ali Asif Zardari yesterday began a difficult five-day trip to Paris and London that was overshadowed in advance by British allegations of terror sponsorship.
Zardari arrived in France overnight for the easier first leg of his visit, during which he is to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy, as Pakistan's diplomatic spat with Britain over claims it backs the Taliban continued.
Relations between London and Islamabad soured last week when Prime Minister David Cameron said Pakistan must not "look both ways" in secretly promoting violent extremism while pretending to seek regional stability.
France and Britain both have thousands of troops deployed with a Nato force in Afghanistan, facing daily attacks from Taliban fighters.
who intelligence analysts say draw operational support and funding from Pakistan.
Cameron's public denunciation of Pakistan's alleged double-dealing -- made during a visit to Islamabad's arch-foe India -- led some in Pakistan to urge Zardari to cancel his British visit in protest.
London did not temper its criticism, however, and even as Zardari's Paris trip began a spokeswoman for Cameron said: "He stands by his remarks."
By contrast, the Pakistan president's two-day visit to France was expected to be relatively free of controversy, with no major public statements planned.
Asked about Cameron's remarks, the French foreign ministry was cautious.
"The regional situation, notably questions of security and the fight against terrorism, are an essential issue upon which we maintain a regular dialogue with the Pakistani authorities," a spokeswoman said.
"This question will be on the agenda for the talks President Zardari will have while in France," she added, without directly addressing the issue.
According to Sarkozy's office, the visit would allow the leaders "to address questions of security and the struggle against terrorism, the situation in the region and of our economic cooperation."
Zardari was to meet Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace later Monday. No news conference was planned, but the leaders could make brief remarks during a photo opportunity on the steps of the building.
Afterwards, they were to visit the Guimet Museum in Paris, which is hosting a major exhibition of pre-Islamic art from the Kingdom of Gandhara, an ancient kingdom partly located in what is now northern Pakistan.
On Tuesday Zardari was to meet French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for a working lunch expected to address regional issues and European humanitarian aid in the wake of this week's deadly Pakistani floods.
After his official schedule, Zardari was to make a brief private visit to Normandy in northern France where his family owns a holiday home.
Zardari is not an all-powerful figure in Pakistan, where the military still retains massive political influence and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has more day-to-day authority over government affairs.
Outside Pakistan Zardari is best known as the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and by his nickname "Mr 10 Percent", a reference to the corruption allegations that have dogged his career.
The terror row threatened to deepen Monday, when Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hauled in Britain's high commissioner -- the Commonwealth equivalent of an ambassador -- for a dressing-down over the Indian speech.
Criticising Pakistan in Bangalore on Wednesday, Cameron said: "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror."