John Heilprin and Peter J. Spielmann
July 13, 2008
NEW YORK – Pakistan’s top diplomat said Saturday there are no U.S. or other foreign military personnel on the hunt for Osama bin Laden in his nation, and none will be allowed in to search for the al-Qaida leader.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his nation’s new government has ruled out such military operations, covert or otherwise, to catch militants.
“Our government’s policy is that our troops, paramilitary forces and our regular forces are deployed in sufficient numbers. They are capable of taking action there. And any foreign intrusion would be counterproductive,” he said Saturday. “People will not accept it. Questions of sovereignty come in.”
The United States has grown increasingly frustrated as al-Qaida, the Taliban and other militants thrive in Pakistan’s remote areas and in neighboring Afghanistan, and has offered U.S. troops to strike at terror networks. Critics in Washington also have expressed frustration with the new Pakistani government’s pursuit of peace deals in the region.
Bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere along the rugged and lawless Afghan-Pakistan border region.
Pakistan’s newly elected civilian government is negotiating with tribal elders to secure peace with militants along the Afghan border in hopes of curbing a surge in violence. It is a step back from the heavy-handed tactics pursued by the previous government led by supporters of President Pervez Musharraf.
Tension between the U.S. and Pakistan have been high after Pakistan said U.S. aircraft killed 11 of its soldiers at a border post in June. U.S. officials have said coalition aircraft dropped bombs during a clash with militants.
Despite Pakistan’s previous statements that it does not allow U.S. forces on its territory, villagers in the border region that is a haven for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters have reported seeing U.S. drones fire missiles at suspected militant targets on several occasions in recent years.
Qureshi said he tried to reassure Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at their meeting Friday that his government was doing everything it can to combat militants in lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
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