ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said on Friday his forces were fully capable of dealing with al Qaeda militants and dismissed the possibility of U.S. forces taking anti-terrorism action on Pakistani soil.
Musharraf’s remarks came after a spate of statements from U.S. officials suggesting the U.S. military kept open the option of a strike against Taliban and al Qaeda targets on Pakistani territory.
“It is very clear that here on Pakistani territory only Pakistani troops will operate. Nobody should have any doubt on it,” he told reporters before departing for a visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“It is the arrangement (with the U.S.) and we are capable to defend in our area. We don’t need any other force to help or assist us.”
Musharraf’s comments came amid growing concerns in Washington that al Qaeda has become entrenched in a safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the Afghan border.
Musharraf is an important ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism but administration officials and lawmakers say he should do more.
President George W. Bush spoke on Saturday of being “troubled” by an al Qaeda rebuilding of strength in Pakistan, raising speculation about some kind of counter-terrorism operation in the lawless regions.
And on Thursday U.S. congressional sources said negotiators had agreed on legislation that would tie U.S. aid to Pakistan to significant progress by Islamabad in cracking down on al Qaeda.
The agreement must still to be approved by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The Bush administration last week released unclassified excerpts of a major intelligence report that concluded the United States faces a heightened threat from al Qaeda in part because of the Pakistan safe haven.
Musharraf denied al Qaeda and Taliban militants were regrouping on Pakistani territory and launching cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
“No regrouping is taking place,” he said.
Musharraf, whose political position weakened after the Supreme Court last week reinstated Pakistan’s chief justice — whom Musharraf had tried to sack — is also confronting a militant blacklash after an assault on Islamabad’s Red Mosque, a radical stronghold, this month.
There have been a series of bomb blasts and suicide attacks across the country following the mosque assault, and scores of people have been killed.
Pro-Taliban militants also announced the scrapping of a peace deal with authorities in the North Waziristan tribal region, a well-known hotbed of support for militants, adding to concerns about militant violence mainly in the conservative northwest.