ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf warned that U.S. troops would be regarded as invaders if they crossed into Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan in the hunt for al-Qaida or Taliban militants, according to an interview published Friday.
Musharraf, whose popularity has plummeted amid a surge in extremist attacks in recent months, also told Singapore's The Straits Times that he would resign if opposition parties tried to impeach him following next month's parliamentary elections.
Pakistan is under growing U.S. pressure to crack down on militants in its tribal regions close to the Afghan border.
The rugged area has long been considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, as well as an operating ground for Taliban militants planning attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported last week that Washington was considering expanding the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to peruse aggressive covert operations within the tribal regions.
Musharraf told the Straits Times that U.S. troops would "certainly" be considered invaders if they set foot in the tribal regions.
"If they come without our permission, that's against the sovereignty of Pakistan. I challenge anybody coming into our mountains," he said in the interview in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. "They would regret that day."
Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup eight years ago, is also under growing domestic pressure.
The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the other main opposition grouping are predicted to make gains in the Feb. 18 polls. They have vowed to oust Musharraf if they emerge as winners. Musharraf is seen as vulnerable to impeachment over his decision to fire Supreme Court judges and suspend the constitution last year.
"If that (impeachment) happens, let me assure that I'd be leaving office before they would do anything. If they won with this kind of majority and they formed a government that had the intention of doing this, I wouldn't like to stick around," he said. "I would like to quit the scene."
© 2008 Associated Press