Islamabad says US military not welcome

ISLAMABAD, Jan 6: Pakistan reacted angrily on Sunday to reports that US President George W. Bush is considering covert military operations in the country’s volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“It is not up to the US administration, it is Pakistan’s government who is responsible for this country,” chief military spokesman Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad told AFP.

“There are no overt or covert US operations inside Pakistan. Such reports are baseless and we reject them.”

The New York Times reported on its website late Saturday that under a proposal being discussed in Washington, CIA operatives based in Afghanistan would be able to call on direct military support for counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan.

Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said the proposal called for giving Central Intelligence Agency agents broader powers to strike targets in Pakistan.

The new plan was reportedly discussed by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security aides in the wake of the Dec 27 assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto.

President Musharraf had not been consulted, the paper claimed.

The military spokesman also dismissed comments from White House hopeful Hillary Clinton that she would propose a joint US-British team to oversee the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if she was elected president.

“We do not require anybody’s assistance. We are fully capable of doing it on our own,” he said.

Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq on Sunday described the New York Times report as speculative but said any suggestion of US forces on its territory was unacceptable.

On Ms Clinton’s remarks about nuclear weapons, Mr Sadiq added: “It must be clearly understood that Pakistan alone is and will be responsible for the security of its nuclear assets.”—AFP

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