Pakistan Warns U.S. About Crossing Border
By MUNIR AHMAD
The Associated Press
Friday, January 30, 2004; 4:12 PM
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A hard-line Islamic coalition warned Friday that Pakistani tribesmen might open fire on American troops if the United States extends a planned spring offensive against Afghan rebels into Pakistan.
Such a move would be a "historic mistake," said Riaz Durrani, spokesman for the opposition coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, which controls two Pakistani provinces bordering Afghanistan.
A U.S. official in Washington hinted this week that a planned effort to step up the hunt for Taliban or al-Qaida fugitives at the end of winter could go into Pakistan. For the past two years, thousands of U.S. forces have been operating in southern and eastern Afghanistan but say they haven't crossed the frontier.
The tribal areas are rugged, remote and historically autonomous areas that were never really brought under the control of Pakistan's central government. People there are linked by language and culture to Afghan Pashtuns, the ethnic group that was the Taliban's power base.
Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in its war on terrorism, but said Thursday it would not allow U.S. troops on its soil.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has said Pakistani forces are successfully hunting down al-Qaida and Taliban remnants in the border region, and have arrested 600 members of al-Qaida throughout the country.
"In a region where even the British army never entered (during the colonial era) and our Pakistan army has entered only after a century, we've got a very swift and very mobile hard-hitting quick reaction force," Musharraf said in Switzerland last week.
The hard-line Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal - also known as the United Action Forum - nevertheless said it would raise the issue of U.S. troops in parliament. It threatened street protests if Washington did get approval to operate inside Pakistan.
"If Pakistan gives permission to America for conducting military operations in tribal regions, it will be very dangerous," Durrani said. "In such a situation, the (U.S.) Army will face bullets from the tribesmen."
He said so far tribesmen in the border regions, which are largely autonomous from the central government, are showing restraint as Pakistani troops search the region for al-Qaida fugitives.
"We are urging them not to resist the (Pakistani) army," Durrani said. "But if Americans go into their areas, the tribesmen will not listen to us."
Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants are believed to be in hiding in the border regions - possibly inside Pakistan - and sympathies for the Taliban run high there.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has declined to comment on the reported plans, saying it doesn't comment on future operations. However, a military spokesman in Kabul said Thursday that U.S. forces were "sure" they will catch bin Laden this year.
Pakistan says it has arrested more than 500 al-Qaida followers over the past two years and many of them have been handed over to the United States.
© 2004 The Associated Press