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Musharraf disparages talk of a U.S. strike

Times Staff Writer

President Pervez Musharraf said Tuesday that suggestions the United States might carry out unilateral attacks against Al Qaeda fighters on Pakistani soil were counterproductive.

The Pakistani leader’s comments, his first public expression of displeasure on the subject, came as Pakistani troops struck two insurgent hide-outs in the volatile North Waziristan tribal area. Ten suspected militants were killed in the raids, military officials said, and two Pakistani troops died in separate incidents elsewhere in the troubled region along the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistani forces employed helicopter gunships and heavy artillery in Tuesday’s fighting, which was among the heaviest yet during a nearly month-old government offensive in the tribal areas.

The raids targeted a pair of insurgent-occupied compounds about 10 miles west of Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, which has been the focal point of the military campaign. A truce there between militants and the Musharraf government broke down last month.

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Relations between the Bush administration and Pakistan, a key American ally in the war in Afghanistan, have been tense since a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate last month said Al Qaeda militants were believed to have established a haven in the semiautonomous tribal areas, a belt of rugged territory abutting the border.

On Monday, President Bush said after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Camp David retreat that the U.S. would strike at Al Qaeda figures inside Pakistan if it had solid intelligence about their whereabouts, but did not say whether Pakistan would be consulted. In recent weeks, other administration officials and American presidential hopefuls have suggested that raids aimed at insurgents could be carried out without Pakistan’s consent.

Musharraf’s criticism of such comments came during a meeting in the port city of Karachi with visiting Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and the new American ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson.

“The president pointed out that certain recent U.S. statements were counterproductive to the close cooperation and coordination between the two countries in combating the threat of terrorism,” said a statement from the Foreign Office.

The Pakistani leader, it said, “emphasized that only Pakistan’s security forces, which were fully capable of dealing with any situation, would take counter-terrorism action inside Pakistani territory.”

Musharraf also called new legislation tying U.S. aid to Pakistan to his government’s fight against militants an “irritant” to the two countries’ relations.

A public dispute with the U.S. at this juncture is not necessarily damaging to Musharraf in domestic political terms. The campaign against militants in the tribal areas is unpopular in many quarters, and the Pakistani leader, weaker politically than at any time during his eight-year rule, is often derided as a puppet of the Bush administration.

Musharraf and Karzai have traded accusations over the last year or more over the issue of insurgents finding sanctuary along their common border.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.


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