ISLAMABAD, May 21: Pakistan on Monday refuted a claim that there was Al Qaeda’s base command in the tribal areas and declared that the government was determined to take action against ‘remnants’ of the group who may be hiding in the country.

“There is no Al Qaeda base in Pakistan. We have repeatedly said that Pakistan is the country that has taken the strongest action against Al Qaeda,” Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told a weekly news briefing here.

Saying that it was acknowledged by everyone that Pakistan had broken the back of Al Qaeda, she conceded: “There may be some Al Qaeda remnants in Pakistan. We are taking action against them.”

Ms Aslam dismissed as ‘speculative’ a report in the United States media quoting American intelligence officials as saying that some 50 Central Intelligence Agency operatives had been deployed in Pakistan last year to search for Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and that the group had a base command in the country.

“There is no real evidence or intelligence with us on his whereabouts and nobody knows where he is. So there is no question of 50 CIA agents looking for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan,” she said.

Her response to another claim that the Al Qaeda base command in Pakistan was increasingly being funded by cash flows from Iraq was: “If Al Qaeda is being financed from Iraq, it is for the multinational troops present there to interdict that. It is their responsibility.”

In reply to a question, the spokesperson said Pakistan had lodged a strong protest with the United Kingdom government last week over British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley’s remarks about the country’s domestic issues, including democracy and the president’s military post.

Since Mr Brinkley left the country “very quickly after making that unsolicited statement,” the acting high commissioner was summoned to the Foreign Office to convey Pakistan’s displeasure, she said. “He was informed that the high commissioner’s remarks were unacceptable, they were unsolicited and it was tantamount to interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs,” she said.

“We believe these comments are against the diplomatic etiquette and we have asked the British government to make sure that this is not repeated in future,” she said.

The spokesperson saw nothing intrusive about statements made by US officials regarding the president’s commitment to the people on the uniform issue.

Ms Aslam expressed regret over the deaths of innocent people in the Hyderabad mosque blast in India last week. On Indian reports suggesting involvement of Inter-Services Intelligence in the incident, she asserted: “It was a terrorist act but we reject all baseless insinuations. It is a pattern that whenever a terrorist act occurs in India, unsubstantiated, irresponsible allegations start flying and not even once in the history of Pakistan-India relations has an incident been proven to be backed by any Pakistani elements.”

Taking exception to the Indian newspapers levelling allegations against Pakistan soon after the occurrence of any such incident on the basis of ‘briefings or official sources,’ she said: “We object to that, we resent that. This is not responsible behaviour.”

When asked if the Indian government had shared any information with Pakistan on the Samjhota Express incident, the spokesperson said: “We have received nothing despite repeated assurances.”

She rejected New Delhi’s assertion that Kashmir was an integral part of India.

On the proposal of OIC secretary-general’s special representative on Kashmir to convene an international conference in collaboration with the European Union, the spokesperson said Kashmiri representatives would be invited but it was not clear if Pakistani representatives would also be invited.

When the Foreign Office’s view was sought on the Azad Jammu and Kashmir prime minister’s statement that his government was considering establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, she said: “There are conflicting reports about what exactly he said and also it is not very clear what the context was.”

Updated May 22, 2007 12:00am

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