Pakistan said today that it will not let American forces hunt al-Qaida and Taliban militants on its soil, after a news report said Washington was considering expanding US military and intelligence operations into Pakistan’s tribal regions.
The Foreign Ministry dismissed as “speculative” a story in the New York Times today saying US President George Bush’s top security officials discussed a proposal on Friday to deploy American troops to pursue militants along the Pakistan-Afghan border.
“We are very clear. Nobody is going to be allowed to do anything here,” said Major General Waheed Arshad, the army’s top spokesman.
“The government has said it so many times,” Mr Arshad said. “No foreign forces will be allowed to operate inside Pakistan.”
Bush’s top security advisers – including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – debated whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to “conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” the Times reported.
Recent reports indicate al-Qaida and the Taliban are “intensifying efforts” to destabilise Pakistan’s government, the newspaper said.
It said Mr Bush’s security advisers’ discussion on the proposal was part of an assessment of Washington’s strategy following the December 27 assassination of populist opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a moderate pro-US politician who had vowed to fight Islamic extremists if she was elected in an upcoming parliamentary vote.
The Pakistan-Afghan border area has long been considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, as well as an operating ground for tribal Taliban sympathisers.
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, a close US ally in the war against terror, has blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal militant leader allegedly tied to al-Qaida, for Bhutto’s death.
Mehsud has reportedly denied involvement.