Pakistan New Govt. Opposed To US Action On Its Soil
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's new government is trying to convince the United States that unilateral strikes against al Qaeda militants on its territory could be "counter-productive", the country's foreign minister said on Friday.
Pakistan is a staunch partner in the U.S.-led war against the al Qaeda and Taliban, but there is widespread public opposition to this campaign, particularly in the tribal areas on the Afghan border regarded as safe havens for the militants.
U.S. forces have used drones to fire missiles at militants on the Pakistani side of the border several times in recent years.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan would continue its support for the international campaign against the militants, but could not condone actions by foreign forces on its soil.
"Direct intervention, hot pursuit; we are not supportive of it yesterday, we are not supportive of it today," he told the Senate, parliament's upper house, while outlining the foreign policy of the new coalition which assumed office last month.
"We are convincing our friends and we want to convince them that we cannot allow this strategy and it will not be productive. This strategy will be counter-productive."
Qureshi said only Pakistani security forces were authorized to take action against militants on its territory.
The government is very sensitive to allowing foreign troops to operate on its soil because of fears that it could stoke reprisals from the fiercely-independent Pashtun tribes living in the border regions.
Several militants linked to al Qaeda and Taliban were killed in missiles fired by U.S. drones, most recently in March in the South Waziristan tribal region in which at least nine militants died.
On January 28, one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed in a strike in neighboring North Waziristan.
Since becoming a key U.S. ally following the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, Pakistani policy has been single-handedly spearheaded by President Pervez Musharraf.
But Musharraf has become considerably weakened since he quit the powerful post of army chief in November.
He has also become increasingly isolated after his opponents dealt a humiliating defeat on his allies in a general election in February and formed a coalition.
Qureshi, a former aide to assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said the government will also use other means such as dialogue and economic development of the remote border areas to win public support and isolate hard-core militants.
"We don't want and will not talk to terrorists. But those who want to stay peaceful, who want political engagement...we will move to them and extend hand of friendship to them."
Musharraf had also used a range of options from military operations to dialogue to appeasement to tackle the militancy but his policies did not enjoy public support because of his unpopularity.
Editing by Sanjeev Miglani
© 2008 Reuters