Musharraf cautions US on Al Qaeda fight
He opposes any unilateral action within Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Despite the growing threat from Islamic extremists, President Pervez Musharraf says US troops are not welcome to join the fight against Al Qaeda on Pakistani soil.
Musharraf warned in an interview published yesterday that Pakistan would resist any unilateral military action by the United States against militants sheltered in its lawless, tribal regions close to the Afghan border.
"I challenge anybody coming into our mountains," he told The Straits Times of Singapore in the interview notable for its unusually strident language. "They would regret that day."
The Pakistan-Afghan border has long been considered a likely hiding place for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, as well as a staging ground for Taliban militants planning attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that anything the United States has done, and anything it will do, has been "in full cooperation" with Pakistan's government.
Musharraf said US troops would "certainly" be considered invaders if they set foot in the tribal regions without his permission.
He also said in the Straits Times interview that he would resign if opposition parties tried to impeach him after parliamentary elections set for Feb. 18.
Pakistan's opposition is expected to make gains in the elections amid widespread sympathy for opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated Dec. 27. Opposition groups say they would try to oust the president, although it is still doubtful they could muster the two-thirds parliamentary majority required.
Musharraf - who seized power in a military coup eight years ago - is seen as vulnerable to impeachment over his decision to fire Supreme Court judges and suspend the constitution last year.
"If that [impeachment] happens, let me assure that I'd be leaving office before they would do anything. If they won with this kind of majority and they formed a government that had the intention of doing this, I wouldn't like to stick around," he said. "I would like to quit the scene."
On Thursday, a suicide bombing by a suspected Islamic extremist in Lahore killed 24 people.