US military not welcome in Pakistan: army, foreign ministry
(AFP) - Pakistan reacted angrily Sunday to reports that US President George W. Bush is considering covert military operations in the country's volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
"It is not up to the US administration, it is Pakistan's government who is responsible for this country," chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.
"There are no overt or covert US operations inside Pakistan. Such reports are baseless and we reject them."
The New York Times reported on its website late Saturday that under a proposal being discussed in Washington, CIA operatives based in Afghanistan would be able to call on direct military support for counter-terrorism operations in neighbouring Pakistan.
Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said the proposal called for giving Central Intelligence Agency agents broader powers to strike targets in Pakistan.
Pakistan's western tribal belt is seen as a safe haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who carry out attacks in Afghanistan, as well as the most likely hideout for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The United States now has about 50 soldiers in Pakistan, the report said.
The new plan was reportedly discussed by vice-president Dick Cheney, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and national security aides in the wake of the December 27 assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had not been consulted, the New York Times reported.
Military spokesman Arshad also dismissed comments from White House hopeful Hillary Clinton that she would propose a joint US-British team to oversee the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if she was elected president.
"We do not require anybody's assistance. We are fully capable of doing it on our own," he said.
Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq late Sunday described the New York Times report as "speculative" but said any suggestion of US forces on its territory was "unacceptable".
On Clinton's remarks about nuclear weapons, Sadiq added: "It must be clearly understood that Pakistan alone is and will be responsible for the security of its nuclear assets."