The British prime minister urged Pakistan and India to build on recent, tentative steps toward better relations, saying Tuesday the "time is ripe" for both nations to put their history of war and mistrust behind them.
David Cameron's remarks were among the first by an international leader in support of the recent thawing of ties between the two countries, whose relations are seen as important to long-term stability in Afghanistan once Western forces withdraw.
Building strong ties with Pakistan is a major foreign policy concern for the United Kingdom, given that the 2005 London transit bombings and several other terror plots have been traced to extremists in its one million-strong Pakistani community. The nation also is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan's neighbor, Afghanistan.
Britain along with the United States and other Western nations, gives Pakistan millions of dollars in aid each year to prop up its economy, fearing the consequences of an economic crisis in the nuclear-armed nation. But Cameron urged the country, which has notoriously low level of tax collection, to pay its way.
"Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all _ and that's not fair," he said at a university in the capital, taking up a theme also raised by U.S. officials. "Not fair on you, ordinary Pakistanis who suffer at the sharpest end of this weak governance. But neither is it fair on British taxpayers, who are contributing to Pakistan's future."
On a visit to India last year, Cameron sparked a diplomatic dustup with Pakistan by suggesting it exported terrorism.
Cameron _ on his first trip to Pakistan as Britain's leader _ declined to answer questions on those remarks, but he called for the two countries to make a "fresh start" in their relations. He stressed that the U.K. wanted strong ties between India and Pakistan.
Cameron praised a recent meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in India, which took place around a cricket World Cup fixture between the two countries.
"The sight of Prime Minister Gilani and Prime Minister Singh sitting together at last week's cricket World Cup ... is a tremendous sign of hope for the future," he said to applause. "I believe the time is ripe for your countries to look even further beyond what divides you and embrace what unites you."
Analysts have said any talk of a breakthrough between the two nations, which have fought three wars and had frequent aborted diplomatic initiatives, was premature. India is bitterly opposed to any international efforts to mediate in the dispute, which has at its heart conflicting claims over the Kashmir region.
Better relations would mean Pakistan could free up its forces to fight the Taliban, as well allow it to spend more money on development. The Pakistan army is widely seen as fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan against what it sees as Indian influence there, complicating U.S. efforts.
Pakistan's security establishment has long ties with militant networks it used as proxies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It faces frequent suspicion internationally that it is either tolerating some violent groups or even supporting them. Those accusations, which set off a defensive reaction in Islamabad, resonate in many Western nations because of the aid they are giving to Pakistan.
Cameron said in his speech "neither the Pakistan army nor NATO forces must ever tolerate sanctuaries for people plotting violence" but otherwise did not mention the topic publicly.
His reference to NATO forces was apparently regarding Pakistani accusations that NATO and the U.S. do not do enough in Afghanistan to crack down on militants moving into Pakistan. Most Western critics say the bulk of the militant traffic is going the other way _ from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
Associated Press writers Nahal Toosi in Islamabad and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.