ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan insisted Monday it had no deal allowing the U.S. to fire missiles at militant hideouts after an American newspaper quoted the new president as suggesting otherwise.
President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly told The Wall Street Journal that "India has never been a threat" to his country, while calling Islamist militant groups in the disputed Kashmir region "terrorists."
The reported comments could undermine Zardari just a month into his presidency, especially with Pakistan's powerful military. The army's top brass have traditionally viewed India as its top enemy and has denied any agreement with the U.S. on crossborder operations.
In the interview with the Journal reported on Saturday, Zardari is paraphrased as saying that the U.S. is carrying out missile strikes on Pakistani soil with his government's consent.
"We have an understanding, in the sense that we're going after an enemy together," he is then quoted as saying.
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Zardari, said the Journal writer had read too much into Zardari's quote, and that the president was talking in generalities about fighting terrorism.
"The official position is that we do not allow foreign incursions into Pakistani territory," Babar said.
The U.S. has long carried out missile strikes against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban hideouts in the northwest, but a recent surge in attacks has prompted official Pakistani condemnation.
Washington complains that Pakistan is unwilling or unable to take strong action against the extremists.
At least 24 people, many of them alleged foreign militants, were killed in the latest suspected U.S. strike Friday in North Waziristan province, officials said.
Suspected militants also fired rockets at the home of the top provincial official in northwestern Pakistan, the latest in a surge of attacks that have rocked the lawless region bordering Afghanistan.
Three houses were damaged but no one was injured in the strikes in Mardan late Sunday on the home of North West Frontier Province's chief minister, Amir Haider Khan Hoti.
Analysts have suggested that the previous government of President Pervez Musharraf had some form of spoken agreement with the U.S. to allow the attacks, which are deeply unpopular among many here.
Zardari's comments on India could also raise eyebrows.
India and Pakistan have been traditional archrivals who have fought three wars, two over the status of Kashmir, a region claimed by both countries.
Pakistan has often referred to separatist rebels in Kashmir region as "freedom fighters". It denies Indian allegations it funds and trains them.
Babar said Zardari meant that "foreign jihadi militants" who have "sneaked into Kashmir" are to be condemned as terrorists. He did not elaborate.
Pakistan's chief army spokesman Athar Abbas said he had no comment on the remarks.