- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

From combined dispatches

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan reacted angrily yesterday to reports that President Bush is considering covert military operations in the country’s volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“It is not up to the U.S. administration. It is Pakistan’s government who is responsible for this country,” chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad told Agence France-Presse.

“There are no overt or covert U.S. operations inside Pakistan. Such reports are baseless and we reject them.”

The New York Times reported on its Web site late Saturday that under a proposal being discussed in Washington, CIA operatives based in Afghanistan would be able to call on direct military support for counterterrorism operations in neighboring Pakistan.

Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said the proposal called for giving CIA agents broader powers to strike targets in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s western tribal belt is seen as a safe haven for Taliban and al Qaeda militants, who carry out attacks in Afghanistan, as well as the most-likely hide-out for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The United States now has about 50 soldiers in Pakistan, the report said.

In an interview broadcast yesterday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf blamed Benazir Bhutto for her own death, saying she should not have poked her head out of her vehicle’s sunroof while leaving the Rawalpindi rally, where she was assassinated.

Mr. Musharraf said his government provided Mrs. Bhutto with enough protection and it was her own negligence that led to her death. She should have left the rally quickly instead of lingering to wave to supporters, Mr. Musharraf said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” program.

“I mean, God was kind — she went into the car in spite of the fact that she was waving and all that. She did go into the car. Now — now is the point. Why did she stand outside the car?” he said. “For standing up outside the car, I think it was she to blame alone. Nobody else. Responsibility is hers.”

The U.S. strike plan reportedly was discussed by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security aides in the wake of the Dec. 27 assassination of Mrs. Bhutto.

Gen. Arshad also dismissed comments from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a Democratic candidate for president, that she would propose a joint U.S.-British team to oversee the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if elected president.

“We do not require anybody’s assistance. We are fully capable of doing it on our own,” he said.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Sadiq, late yesterday described the New York Times report as “speculative” but said any suggestion of U.S. forces on its territory is “unacceptable.”

On Mrs. Clinton’s remarks about nuclear weapons, Mr. Sadiq added: “It must be clearly understood that Pakistan alone is and will be responsible for the security of its nuclear assets.”

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