Pakistan to US after clash: Stay away from border

The Associated Press
Friday, September 26, 2008; 6:15 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan sought to reassure Washington on Friday that it remained an ally in fighting terrorism, but it also warned the U.S. to stay out of Pakistani territory while hunting down militants along the volatile border with Afghanistan.

Emphasizing that it doesn't need American firepower, a Pakistani general said an offensive along the frontier has killed more than 1,000 militants and predicted the region would be "stabilized" within two months.

He also showed photos of militant tunnel systems and trenches in Bajur, suggesting more tough fighting ahead in an area that is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

Washington has launched a flurry of missiles and a ground assault on targets within Pakistan recently, infuriating ordinary Pakistanis and their leaders.

In the first serious exchange with Pakistani forces acknowledged by the U.S., American helicopters and Pakistani ground troops briefly traded fire Thursday on the border. The aircraft were not hit and no one was hurt.

U.S. officials said the two choppers were inside Afghanistan when the troops opened fire. Pakistan insisted the aircraft had crossed the ill-defined and contested border.

Pakistani government spokesman Akram Shaheedi urged U.S.-led coalition forces "not to violate (the) territorial sovereignty of Pakistan as it is counterproductive to the war on terror."

"It has been Pakistan's policy that we will not allow anyone to violate our sovereignty, and we will continue to defend our territorial sovereignty," he said.

President Asif Ali Zardari addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday and warned that Pakistan cannot allow its territory to "be violated by our friends." But he struck a more conciliatory note Friday at a brief appearance alongside Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"I look at U.S. support as a blessing. I look at the world support as a blessing to Pakistan," Zardari said.

Rice did not answer when asked about the border clash, but expressed unwavering U.S. support for Pakistan.

"We know that Pakistan has many challenges in security, in the economy, and in bringing stability to this young democracy," she said. "But we hope that the president and Pakistani people were assured today that the international community will be by their side as they take difficult decisions and move toward a more stable and prosperous Pakistan."

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