- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

From combined dispatches
Pakistan's position on whether to allow U.S. troops on its territory to pursue terrorists created confusion yesterday, with one Cabinet minister saying "no" a day after another minister said "yes."
Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said yesterday that Islamabad was confident fugitives Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader, were not in the country, and it would not allow U.S. forces to cross the border from Afghanistan to look for them in Pakistan.
"[President Pervez Musharraf] has already said … there is no need for any forces to cross over," Mr. Haider said in an interview with Reuters news agency. "We are quite well organized, we are quite effective, we are our watch, on high alert."
On Tuesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar told The Washington Times that his government was prepared to change existing policy to let U.S. troops enter its territory.
"There is no problem: U.S. forces can cross the border into Pakistan if necessary we should discuss it," Mr. Sattar said by telephone from Geneva, where he was attending meetings of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
He pointed out that Pakistani troops already were deployed in the rugged border area, where U.S. intelligence services believed many al Qaeda members, perhaps including bin Laden, had taken refuge.
"But if American forces are closer, then through communications between U.S. and Pakistani forces, we can arrive at an understanding," Mr. Sattar said.
Yesterday, however, Mr. Sattar's spokesman, Aziz Ahmed Khan, appeared to back away from his boss's remarks.
Mr. Khan said Washington has not asked to deploy troops, "nor will we allow this."
At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said reports about Pakistan's position were confusing but stressed the country's "excellent cooperation" in the war on terrorism.
"We cooperate very closely, and I'm sure should any particular situation arise, we would be able to resolve it and maintain security together with the government of Pakistan," he told reporters.
On Monday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not plan to send U.S. troops across the border.
But Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called Tuesday for greater latitude for U.S. and coalition forces that were "in the hunt for the remaining terrorists."
"I'm sure some of [the terrorists] have gone across to Pakistan," he told reporters during a visit to Bagram air base near Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, also proposed placing U.S. troops on the Pakistani side of the frontier to prevent "al Qaeda and the other terrorists from going across that porous border."
American troops could encounter violent resistance from the ethnic Pashtun tribesmen who inhabit Pakistan's border areas and pay little heed to the central government.
Some tribal leaders have been quoted this week voicing fierce anti-American, anti-Jewish and pro-al Qaeda sentiments.
Thousands of Pakistani troops have been deployed in the tribal areas for the first time since Pakistan gained its independence from Britain in 1947.
Yet they have been unable to seal the frontier against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, who are believed to have escaped into Pakistan's border region after Operation Anaconda and the battle at Tora Bora.
About 300 suspected fighters have been detained by Pakistani forces and are under interrogation, Mr. Sattar said Tuesday. He disputed reports that hundreds or thousands more had found a warm welcome inside the tribal belt.
"The government made it abundantly clear [al Qaeda members] are not welcome and anyone who shelters them takes a great risk," Mr. Sattar said.


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