Pakistan says won't let foreign troops on its soil

Pakistan will not allow any country to conduct military operations on its territory, officials said on Monday, rejecting a report that said the United States was considering authorizing its forces to act in Pakistan.

The New York Times said on Sunday the U.S. government was considering expanding the authority of the CIA and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in Pakistan.

The U.S. officials considering the move were concerned over intelligence reports that al Qaeda and the Taliban were more intent on destabilizing Pakistan, the newspaper said.

Pakistani government and military officials dismissed the report and said Pakistan would not permit any such action.

" Pakistan's position in the war on terror has been very clear -- that any action on Pakistani soil will be taken only by Pakistani forces and Pakistani security agencies," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

"No other country will be allowed to carry out operations in Pakistan. This has been conveyed at the highest level," he said.

Military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad rejected the report as baseless, saying no U.S. military operations, overt of covert, were allowed.

Pakistan's lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border is a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban members who fled from Afghanistan when U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban weeks after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Pakistan's security forces have been fighting the militants since then, but its alliance with the United States is deeply unpopular among many Pakistanis.

Some Pakistanis support al Qaeda and the Taliban while others, while not supporting militancy, object to what they see as Pakistan doing the bidding of the United States.

Pakistan fears allowing foreign troops to operate on its territory along the Afghan border would incite a backlash among the fiercely independent Pashtun tribes living there.

The New York Times, citing senior Bush administration sources, said U.S. officials met in the United States on Friday.

While no decision was made at the meeting, options under discussion included the CIA working with the U.S. military's Special Operations forces.

Among those reported at the meeting were Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Times said.

Several participants argued that the threat to President Pervez Musharraf's government was so acute that he and Pakistan's military leaders were likely to grant Washington more latitude, the Times said.

U.S. spokesmen declined to discuss the meeting but one official said the discussion reflected concern that a new al Qaeda haven was solidifying in parts of Pakistan and needed to be countered, the paper said.

While no new options had been formally presented by Washington to Musharraf, the newspaper said officials from the White House to the Pentagon saw an opening in Pakistan's changing political structure for Washington's expanding authority in the nuclear-armed country.

Bush administration aides said that Pakistani and U.S. officials shared concerns about a resurgent al Qaeda, and that U.S. diplomats and senior military officers had been working closely with Pakistani officials to strengthen Pakistan's counterterrorism operations, the newspaper said.

New options for expanded covert operations under consideration included loosening reins on the CIA so it could strike at targets in Pakistan, officials told the newspaper.

If the CIA were given wider latitude, it could call in military help or charge Special Operations forces to act under its authority, the Times said.

Any expanded U.S. operations by the CIA or Special Operations forces would be small and specifically tailored, military officials said. ( Reuters )

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