Pakistan denies hot pursuit
entry to coalition troops


Munir Ahmad

Associated Press

March 3, 2007


Pakistan vehemently denied Saturday the U.S. military's claim that coalition forces in Afghanistan have the authority to pursue Taliban fleeing across the border into Pakistani territory.

"There is no authorization for hot pursuit of terrorists into our territory," Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, spokesman for the Pakistan Army, told The Associated Press on Saturday. "Whatever actions are needed to fight terrorism, we are taking them."

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry rejected an assertion by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, chief operations officer for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, that his forces routinely fire on and pursue Taliban into Pakistan.

"No foreign forces are allowed to cross into our territorial border," said Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam. "Pakistan and United States are partners in the war on terror not adversaries."

Aslam's and Arshad's comments came two days after Lute told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington that "we have all the authorities we need to pursue, either with (artillery) fire or on the ground, across the border."

Lute provided a detailed description of when U.S. forces can fire on and pursue insurgents across the border into the Islamic nation of Pakistan, an important ally of the U.S. in its campaign against terrorism.

However, Lute did not elaborate on whether there were restrictions on how deep into Pakistan his soldiers could go. He said the decision is based not on distance, but on the immediacy of the threat involved.

Pakistan used to be a main supporter of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime, but it switched sides after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Its forces have since arrested at least 700 al-Qaida and Taliban.

But there is growing international pressure on Pakistan to crackdown further on Taliban militants on its side of the border, a message delivered on Monday by Vice President Dick Cheney during a visit to Islamabad.

In Kabul on Saturday, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told members of Parliament that Pakistan uses terror as its foreign policy and that the international community should not reward Pakistan with aid.

"Pakistan shouldn't use terror as its foreign policy," he said. "I wish that the international community wouldn't give rewards to countries that are supporting the Taliban."

Afghan officials frequently accuse Pakistani leaders of harboring Taliban fighters and commanders, though Pakistan insists it does all it can to fight terrorism. Pakistan has deployed about 80,000 troops near Afghanistan, where al-Qaida and Taliban remnants are believed to be hiding.

Nisar A. Memon, chairman of the Pakistani Senate's Standing Committee on Defense, said his country alone would take action against militants on its side of the border, but that Afghanistan should do more from its territory.

"Pakistan has contributed more than any other country to the successes in the fight against terrorism and extremism," he said. "On the Afghanistan side, there is equal responsibility of the coalition and Afghan forces to stop undesirable elements from crossing into our territory."

During his trip, Cheney had expressed concern to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf over al-Qaida regrouping inside Pakistan's tribal regions and an expected Taliban spring offensive in neighboring Afghanistan.

Shortly after Cheney's visit, Pakistani intelligence officials said that Pakistani agents during a raid in the southwestern city of Quetta captured the Taliban's former defense minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund.

Pakistan so far has not officially confirmed Akhund's arrest, although individuals with knowledge of Pakistani intelligence workings say the man was being questioned near the capital, Islamabad. Akhund is said to be a key associate of fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.