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Discord over ‘hot pursuit’

September 22, 2006

WASHINGTON, Sept 21: A day before their crucial meeting at the White House, US President Bush and President Pervez Musharraf have openly disagreed with each other on an issue that retains the potential to adversely affect an otherwise close cooperation in the war against terror.

In an interview to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, Mr Bush insisted that he would send forces into Pakistan to capture or kill Al Qaeda leaders if solid intelligence information pinpointed them in that country.

“Absolutely,” Mr Bush said when asked if he would give the order under those circumstances.

When Mr Blitzer asked again whether he would send troops despite Pakistan’s claims of sovereignty, the US President Bush said: “We would take the action necessary to bring them to justice.”

Responding to Mr Bush’s remarks, President Pervez Musharraf told a news briefing at the UN that he would not allow US troops into Pakistan to kill or capture Osama. “No,” he said. “We wouldn’t like to allow that at all. We will do it ourselves. We would like to do it ourselves.”

Gen Musharraf said his country had a solid track record in dealing with terrorist leaders and was quite capable of catching any Al Qaeda leaders and, therefore, he saw no need for allowing hot pursuits by foreign troops.

US Army Gen John Abizaid, who as head of the Central Command oversees American military operations in Afghanistan, told reporters in Washington that the Taliban military activity organised and supported from the Pakistan side of the border had increased in the past year.

“While we get a lot of great cooperation from the Pakistanis in many different ways, it’s clear that we’ve got to do more against the Taliban on both sides of the border for Afghanistan and Pakistan to be able to move in a better direction,” Gen. Abizaid said.

In Islamabad, foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam declined to respond directly to Mr Bush’s remarks, but reiterated President Musharraf’s rejection of any foreign military forces stepping foot in this Asian nation.

“Any terrorist action to be taken inside Pakistani territory would be taken by Pakistan,” she said.

UNCLEAR: The White House on Thursday declined to say whether it would need to ask permission from Pakistan before striking at Osama were he located in Pakistani territory, adds AFP.

“What I can tell you is that — without getting into any operational details — that when there is actionable information, that Osama bin Laden will be brought to justice,” spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

Her comments came a day before US President George W. Bush was to meet with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the White House, in the wake of contradictory comments on whether such permission was needed.

Asked whether Bush would consider it necessary, Perino noted the pending visit and added: “As we’ve said before, Pakistan is an important partner in the war on terror and a friend to the United States.

“We’ve had excellent cooperation in many areas, including counterterrorism. And the president has repeatedly said how much he appreciates Musharraf’s commitment to pursuing Al Qaeda and continuing to work with us in cooperation in the search for Osama.

“Pakistan and the United States remain close allies, working not only on the war on terror together, but on many other areas,” she said.

Bush in a Sept 15 press conference, had said that such military action would hinge on permission from Pakistan.

“Pakistan is a sovereign nation. In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we’ve got to be invited by the government of Pakistan,” he said in the White House Rose Garden.