Pakistan Denies U.S. Right to Hunt Terrorists Within Its Borders

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Pakistan reiterated Sunday that it will not let American forces hunt Al Qaeda and Taliban militants on its soil, after a news report said Washington was considering expanding U.S. military and intelligence operations into Pakistan's tribal regions.

The Foreign Ministry dismissed as "speculative" a story in the New York Times on Sunday saying U.S. President Bush's top security officials discussed a proposal Friday to deploy American troops to pursue militants along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

"We are very clear. Nobody is going to be allowed to do anything here," said Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the army's top spokesman.

"The government has said it so many times," Arshad said. "No foreign forces will be allowed to operate inside Pakistan."

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Bush's top security advisers — including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — debated whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to "conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan," the Times reported.

Recent reports indicate Al Qaeda and the Taliban are "intensifying efforts" to destabilize Pakistan's government, the newspaper said.

It said Bush's meeting with security advisors was to discuss Washington's strategy following the Dec. 27 assassination of populist opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a moderate pro-U.S. politician who had vowed to fight Islamic extremists if she was elected in an upcoming parliamentary vote.

The Pakistan-Afghan border area has long been considered a likely hiding place for Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and his top deputy Aymen Al-Zawahiri, as well as an operating ground for tribal Taliban sympathizers.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, a close U.S. ally in the war against terror, has blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal militant leader allegedly tied to Al Qaeda, for Bhutto's death.

Mehsud has reportedly denied involvement.