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Pakistan: You Can't Hunt Al Qaeda Here

Pakistan reiterated that it will not let American forces hunt al Qaeda and Taliban militants on its soil, after a news report said Sunday that the Bush administration was considering expanding U.S. military and intelligence operations into Pakistan's tribal regions.

The Foreign Ministry dismissed as "speculative" a story in The New York Times saying President 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 spokesman 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.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman 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 - had 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 Times reported.

Recent reports indicate al Qaeda and the Taliban are "intensifying efforts" to destabilize Pakistan's government, the newspaper said.

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

Pakistan's 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.
By Sadaqat Jan

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