Pakistan rejects US media report on covert tribal area operation


Islamabad : Pakistan on Sunday rejected American media report that President Bush’s senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

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The New York Times reported on Sunday the debate is a response to intelligence reports that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts there to destabilize the Pakistani government.

Pakistan military spokesman Maj General Waheed Arshad said that Pakistani security forces are capable of maintaining peace in the country.

The spokesman described as baseless the report that the US is debating new strategy for Pakistan, according to a private TV channel.

The NYT reported that Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a number of President Bush’s top national security advisers met Friday at the White House to discuss the proposal, which is part of a broad reassessment of American strategy after the assassination 10 days ago of the Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

There was also talk of how to handle the period from now to the February 18 elections, and the aftermath of those elections.

Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.

But no decisions were made, said the officials, who declined to speak for attribution because of the highly delicate nature of the discussions.

Many of the specific options under discussion are unclear and highly classified. Officials said that the options would probably involve the CIA working with the military’s Special Operations forces.

The Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Sadiq said he is not aware of any meeting mentioned by the New York Times.

Sadiq said that writers some times based their stories on speculations, with unnamed sources. He added that every speculative story does not need reaction.