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SINGAPORE, Jan 11: President Pervez Musharraf has warned that the US troops will be regarded as invaders if they cross into Pakistan to hunt Al Qaeda militants and has said he will resign if opposition parties try to impeach him after next month’s elections, according to an interview.

President Musharraf told the Straits Times that the US or coalition troops would not be welcome unless invited for a particular reason, such as hunting Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

“Nobody will come here until we ask them to come. And we haven’t asked them,” he said in the interview which was published on Friday.

Asked if an unilateral intervention would be seen as an invasion, Mr Musharraf replied: “Certainly. If they come without our permission, that’s against the sovereignty of Pakistan.

“But when you’re talking about Osama bin Laden, any action against him will be free, if we know where he is, if we have good intelligence.

“The methodology will be discussed together and we’ll attack the target together.”

Pakistan’s military this month rejected a New York Times report that Washington is considering granting the Pentagon and the CIA new authority to conduct covert operations in the tribal areas, where Al Qaeda is showing new strength.

Pakistan is struggling to put down violence in the tribal zone despite sending 90,000 troops there to hunt militants, which some experts believe include bin Laden.

But President Musharraf said the US army would not do a better job. “The United States seems to think that what our army cannot do, they can do, this is a very wrong perception,” he said.

“I challenge anybody to come into our mountains. They would regret that day. It’s not easy there.”

Hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents took shelter in the rugged northwestern region after US-led forces overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

RESIGNATION: Musharraf said he would resign if the opposition parties tried to impeach him after next month’s elections.

Musharraf’s remarks came as police tried to identify a suicide bomber who blew himself up in Lahore on Thursday, killing 24 people and adding to pressure on the former general as he struggles to stay in office eight years after seizing power in military coup.

Musharraf is also under gathering domestic political pressure.

The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the other main opposition grouping are predicted to make gains in the Feb 18 polls. They have vowed to oust Musharraf if they emerge as winners. Musharraf is seen as vulnerable to impeachment over his decision to fire Supreme Court judges and suspend the Constitution last year.

“If that (impeachment) happens, let me assure that I’d be leaving office before they would do anything. If they won with this kind of majority and they formed a government that had the intention of doing this, I wouldn’t like to stick around,” he said. “I would like to quit the scene.”

Thursday’s blast targeting police officers outside the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore was the latest in a series of bloody attacks in the country.

At least 20 suicide bombers have struck in the past three months, killing 400 people, many of them from the security forces -- the most intense period of terror strikes here since Pakistan allied with the US in its war against Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in 2001.—Agencies


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