PESHAWAR, March 15: Exhorting tribesmen to expel foreign militants from tribal regions, President Gen Pervez Musharraf warned on Monday that failure to do so could entail serious repercussions for Pakistan.

The president told a grand tribal Jirga at the sprawling lawns of the Governor's House here that the ongoing operation in South Waziristan must produce results at all costs.

"Repercussions will be very serious for the country if operation fails in Wana," he said, stressing that the tribesmen would have to cooperate with the government in this regard.

"We have confirmed that 500 to 600 foreign suspects have been sheltered in the South Waziristan region. But we don't want they get weapons and training from here and create disturbance across the western border," he said.

He urged tribal elders to expel foreign suspects and their local sympathizers from the region. He reiterated an earlier offer that foreign militants who surrendered would not be handed over to any foreign country.

President Musharraf's warning to the gathering of over 500 tribal elders and parliamentarians came two days ahead of a visit to Islamabad by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

NWFP Governor Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah, Water and Power Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Commander 11th Corps Lt-Gen Safdar Hussain, and senior officials were present on the occasion.

The president assured that foreign troops, including Americans, would not be allowed to carry out any operation in tribal areas. Only Pakistan troops would conduct operations against the wanted people, he said.

"I assure you that US troops would not be engaged in the South Waziristan's operation. I can quit (my office), but will not compromise on vital national interest," he said.

He, however, acknowledged that some Americans were operating in the area to gather intelligence on foreign militants. "It is true that over two dozens Americans are operating in the area who are sharing intelligence with the administration," he admitted.

Appreciating tribesmen's role in the operation against Al Qaeda, Gen Musharraf said tribal volunteers had started action against extremists and were dismantling their hideouts in Wana, but that was not enough.

He said that foreign elements, including Uzbek and Tajiks, were being sheltered in this part of the country and they should be removed. Expressing concern over the recent killing of 13 civilians in Wana, he said investigations were under way and action would be taken against responsible officials. He said such misunderstandings would not be repeated in future.

The president said it was encouraging that tribesmen were giving positive response to the government's efforts in removing extremism from the country. But the government would do more to improve the image of Pakistan in the international community, he added.

Showing a copy of an international magazine, Gen Musharraf pointed out that foreign media had reported that suspects sneaked into Afghan territory from the tribal area and attacked allied forces and that Pakistan was not cooperating in the war against terrorism.

He said that extremists had badly damaged the image of Islam and Muslims were being projected as ignorant, militant and suicide bombers. He said the West did not know that Muslims believed in peace and brotherhood.

Gen Musharraf said the world community continued to blame Pakistan for the prevailing insecurity in Afghanistan, disturbances in the Indian-held Kashmir and nuclear proliferation and accused it of promoting extremism across the world.

He said: "We are not living in space and Pakistan is part of the integrated world." Extremists were trying to marginalize Pakistan, but their designs would be foiled, he added.

The president said he feared that if peace efforts failed in Afghanistan, Pakistan would again face a huge influx of millions of refugees. Peace in Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan.

He reiterated that Pakistan would not roll back its nuclear programme and had recently test-fired the ballistic Shaheen-II missile and would continue the programme.

DEVELOPMENT PACKAGE: Gen Musharraf said the government was committed to continue development activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He said the ongoing development schemes would change socio-economic environment of the area.

He assured the Jirga that the proposed Rs7 billion development package would be released soon to expedite development activities in the region. The president said that work on the Torkham-Jalalabad road and Peshawar-Torkham Expressway would be started soon, while construction of the Thall-Parachinar and Bannu-Ghulam Khan highways was under consideration.

He said that Pakistan had an important geo-strategic location in the region and could act as a bridge between the land-locked Central Asian Republics and the South Asian region by developing land routes.

'Libyan militant tried to kill me'

PESHAWAR: The president accused a Libyan Al Qaeda militant of trying to kill him in December. "We have identified a network. They belong to Al Qaeda. One Libyan was involved in the attacks on me," Gen Musharraf said during a visit to Peshawar. -APP



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