ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Pakistan on Saturday for talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on stemming the flow of Islamic terrorists traveling between their countries and tackling the bloody Taliban resurgence in neighboring Afghanistan.
Blair landed in the capital, Islamabad, before a meeting with Musharraf scheduled for Sunday, when the leaders were expected to agree on new plans to counter extremism — including a funding package to promote moderate teaching in religious schools and a new push on intelligence sharing.
The British leader also planned to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Islamabad on Sunday.
Blair's visit, his third to Pakistan and first since 2002, came a day after Musharraf freed a Briton held on Pakistan's death row for 18 years in an act of clemency.
Mirza Tahir Hussain, 36, had maintained his innocence over the killing of taxi driver Jamshed Khan in 1988. He was released Friday after his death sentence was commuted to life in prison two days earlier and immediately flew home to Britain. A death sentence in Pakistan equates to 14 years in jail, less than what Hussain had served.
A senior official at Britain's Foreign Office said this week that hundreds of people were traveling between Pakistan and Britain each year to relay messages and raise funds on behalf of groups planning terror attacks.
Dozens head to Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan to attend terrorist training camps, the official said.
Pakistan's continued cooperation in cracking down on cross-border infiltration by Taliban militants is seen as critically important for the success of U.S. and NATO military operations in Afghanistan.
"The visit signifies the growing partnership between Pakistan and United Kingdom," said Pakistan's Foreign Ministry in a statement.
In remarks released Saturday by a German news magazine, Focus, Musharraf called for a rethink of the international community's strategy in Afghanistan.
He warned that disappointment with the Afghan government could translate into popular support for the Taliban among ethnic Pashtuns.
"Before it is too late, we must win over the non-militant Pashtuns and separate them from the others," Musharraf was quoted as saying in an interview released ahead of publication on Monday.
Musharraf also insisted Pakistan's secret service was not helping the Taliban.
"Pakistan is not a banana republic. We have an extremely loyal and disciplined army. The secret service is made up mainly of military men," he reportedly said.
Blair's visit follows Musharraf's trip to Britain in September and a five-day tour of Pakistan last month by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.