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'Pak won't accept foreign troops on its soil'

April 07, 2009 20:32 IST
Amid differences with America on the issue of drone attacks against high-value terrorist targets on it soil, Pakistan on Tuesday said it would not give any "blank cheques" to the United States and not accept foreign troops in its territory in the ongoing war to root out the Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Islamabad has flagged "certain red lines" that cannot be crossed by US, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told media persons after a meeting with America's Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and top military commander Admiral Mike Mullen, where he complained about US missile strikes.

"The bottom line is the question of trust. We are partners and we want to be partners. We can only work together if we respect and trust each other. There is no other way. Nothing else will work," he said.

Pakistan has made it clear that it would not accept any "foreign boots on Pakistani soil" and this has been accepted by Washington, he said.

Qureshi said Pakistan had differences with the US on the issue of missile strikes by American drones in its tribal areas. He said Pakistan considered the attacks counter-productive and working to the advantage of extremists. Both sides had "agreed to disagree" on the issue, which would be discussed during a meeting of civil and military leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US to be held in Washington during May 5-7, he said.

Holbrooke and Mullen arrived in Islamabad on Monday night on the first top level visit by US officials since President Barack Obama put Pakistan and Afghanistan at the centre of his new strategy for the region announced late last month.

During his meeting with the two top US officials on Monday night, President Asif Ali Zardari said Pakistan was fighting terrorism for its own survival and would not succumb to any pressure from militants.

He also sought "unconditional support" from international community in fields like training and provision of equipment to defeat the Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Qureshi said that the issue of drone attacks figured prominently in his talks with US officials.

"We did talk about drones. And let me be very frank there is a gap between us and them and I want to bridge that gap," Quereshi said.

Both the US officials said their country would work actively with the Pakistani military establishment to cope with terrorism and extremism. Holbrooke said the US will assist Pakistan "in a critical transformation of part of their armed forces to deal with the new emerging threat in the western areas."

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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