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Pakistan Rejects US Plans to Strike Terrorists on its Soil


Pakistan says it will not permit the United States to unilaterally hunt terrorists on its soil, despite a common desire to defeat radical Islamist militants. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, the statements from Pakistani officials follow a U.S. media report that the Bush administration has considered expanding U.S. military and intelligence operations in Pakistan's tribal regions, thought to be a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden.

Pakistan's foreign ministry is downplaying the New York Times story as speculative, but military officials in Islamabad are far more blunt in rejecting possible U.S. activities within their country's borders.

A Pakistani army spokesman, Major General Waheed Arshad, says Pakistan has been clear on the issue, and no foreign forces will be allowed to operate inside Pakistan.

The New York Times is reporting that President Bush's top advisors have debated stepping up covert operations in Pakistan's northern tribal regions, where the country's central government exercises little control. The Times says the move was considered amid concerns that terrorist forces are intensifying efforts to destabilize Pakistan, a critical U.S. ally in the war on terror with a nuclear arsenal.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani, said his government takes the terrorist threat seriously and is actively combating it on its own.

"We are totally focused on destroying al-Qaida and the Taleban network, and not just one person," said Mahmud Ali Durrani. "We are looking at the broader issue."

The ambassador added that neither Pakistan nor the United States knows precisely where terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden may be hiding, but if his whereabouts were known inside Pakistan, then Pakistani forces would have, in his words, "taken him out."

The delicate situation in Pakistan, including the postponement of national elections following the assassination last month of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has been the subject of commentary by U.S. presidential candidates. Months ago, Democratic Senator Barack Obama made headlines when he stated that he would not hesitate to authorize unilateral U.S. military action to eliminate bin Laden in Pakistani territory.

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press program, Republican Senator John McCain, who once pledged to pursue bin Laden, as he put it, "to the gates of hell", suggested he would not have to bypass Pakistan's government to kill or capture the al-Qaida leader.

"[President] Musharraf and I have a relationship that goes back a number of years," said John McCain. "I would be in constant communication with him. And I am sure that, publicly or privately, he would be working very closely [with the United States]."

McCain described Mr. Musharraf as a "good man" but someone "who has made mistakes". He added that Pakistan needs free and fair elections to move forward.

The senator's last point was echoed by Democratic presidential contender Bill Richardson. But, speaking on Late Edition, Richardson said President Musharraf should step down.

"What is in our best interest is a broadly-based democratic government in Pakistan," said Bill Richardson. "Musharraf is a source of tremendous support for al-Qaida and terrorist elements."

Richardson urged President Musharraf to allow a caretaker government to rule until elections are held.