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’
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.