Toronto Star

Pakistan won’t allow U.S. troops on its soil

Plans by Bush for increase of operations in tribal areas dismissed by foreign ministry as ‘speculativ­e’

- SADAQAT JAN ASSOCIATED PRESS

ISLAMABAD— Pakistan reiterated it will not let American forces hunt Al Qaeda and Taliban militants on its soil, after a report yesterday in The New York Times said the administra­tion of U.S. President George W. Bush was considerin­g expanding U.S. military and intelligen­ce operations into Pakistan’s tribal regions. The Foreign Ministry dismissed as “speculativ­e” a story that said Bush’s top security officials discussed a proposal Friday to deploy U.S. troops to pursue militants along the Pakistan-Afghanista­n border. “We are very clear. Nobody is going to be allowed to do anything here,” said Maj.-Gen. Waheed Arshad, the top spokespers­on for Pakistan’s army.

“The government has said it so many times,” Arshad said. “No foreign forces will be allowed to operate inside Pakistan.”

The Pakistan-Afghanista­n border area has long been considered a likely hiding place for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, as well as an operating ground for tribal Taliban sympathize­rs.

But Mahmoud Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s envoy to the United States, said yesterday: “He (bin Laden) may be in Afghanista­n. He may be in the border region. If we knew where he was, we would have taken him out.”

In Afghanista­n, President Hamid Karzai’s spokespers­on did not immediatel­y return a call seeking comment on the report.

Bush’s top security advisers — including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezz­a Rice — debated whether to expand the authority of the CIA and the military to “conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” the newspaper reported.

Recent reports indicate Al Qaeda and the Taliban are “intensifyi­ng efforts” to destabiliz­e Pakistan’s government, The Times said.

It said Bush’s security advisers’ discussion on the proposal was part of an assessment of Washington’s strategy after the Dec. 27 assassinat­ion of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a moderate pro-U.S. politician who vowed to fight Islamic extremists if she was elected in an upcoming parliament­ary vote.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a close U.S. ally in the war against terror, has blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal militant leader allegedly tied to Al Qaeda, for Bhutto’s death.

Mehsud has reportedly denied involvemen­t.

 ?? MOHSIN RAZA/REUTERS ?? A Benazir Bhutto supporter lights a candle during a memorial in Lahore.
MOHSIN RAZA/REUTERS A Benazir Bhutto supporter lights a candle during a memorial in Lahore.

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