LONDON — The U.S.-led coalition's battle against the Taliban has already been lost because of its failure to win over the Afghan people, Pakistan's president warned Tuesday before tough talks this week with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has accused the country of exporting terrorism.
President Asif Ali Zardari told the French daily Le Monde online that the coalition had "underestimated the situation on the ground and was not conscious of the scale of the problem" against the Taliban largely because "we have lost the battle to conquer the heart and soul" of the Afghan people.
"To win the support of the Afghan population, we must bring them economic development and show that we cannot only change their lives, but above all improve them," Zardari was quoted as saying.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rejected Zardari's assessment Tuesday, saying he thought coalition actions taken in the past few months have "won the hearts and minds of the Afghan people," and that "the Afghan people know of the brutality of the Taliban."
Zardari is set to meet with Cameron on Friday. The talks have been overshadowed by Cameron's remarks last week that Pakistan was two-faced in dealing with terrorists.
The visit of Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, comes amid growing concern that some elements in Pakistan's intelligence service and military have been sympathetic to Taliban militants — a claim supported in WikiLeaks, the self-described online whistle-blower that recently posted leaked U.S. military documents alleging Pakistan's unwillingness to sever its historical ties to the Taliban.
"Pakistan and its people are the victims of the terrorists," Zardari said. Pakistan has lost about 2,500 of its security forces in the past few years during battles against insurgents.
Zardari denied allegations that elements in Pakistan were cooperating with the Taliban and said the WikiLeaks documents citing Pakistan predated his time as president.