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Pak insists no US deal on strikes

Pakistan insisted today that it has not made a deal with the US allowing it to fire missiles at militant hide-outs after an American newspaper quoted the new president as suggesting otherwise.

world Updated: Oct 06, 2008 15:09 IST

Pakistan insisted on Monday it has not made a deal with the US allowing it to fire missiles at militant hide-outs after an American newspaper quoted the new president as suggesting otherwise.

President Asif Ali Zardari also told The Wall Street Journal that "India has never been a threat" to his country, while calling Islamist militant groups in the disputed Kashmir region "terrorists."

The reported comments could undermine Zardari just a month into his presidency, especially with Pakistan's powerful military. Pakistan's army traditionally views India as enemy No. 1 and has denied making any agreement with the US on cross-border operations.

In the interview with the Journal, Zardari is paraphrased as saying that the U.S. has been carrying out missile strikes on Pakistani soil with his government's consent.

"We have an understanding, in the sense that we're going after an enemy together," he is then quoted as saying. The interview appeared on Saturday.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Zardari, said the journalist had read too much into Zardari's quote and that the president was talking in generalities about fighting terrorism. "The official position is that we do not allow foreign incursions into Pakistani territory," Babar said. The U.S. has long carried out missile strikes against suspected al-Qaida and Taliban hide-outs in the northwest, but a recent surge in attacks has prompted official Pakistani condemnation. Analysts have suggested that the previous government under former President Pervez Musharraf had some form of spoken agreement with the US to allow the attacks, which are deeply unpopular among many here.

Zardari's comments on India could also raise eyebrows. Traditional archrivals India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two over the status of Kashmir, a region claimed by both countries. Pakistan often refers to separatist rebels in Kashmir as "freedom fighters," but denies Indian allegations that it funds and trains them.

Babar said Zardari meant that "foreign jihadi militants" who have "sneaked into Kashmir" should be condemned as terrorists. He did not elaborate.

Pakistan's chief army spokesman Athar Abbas said he no comment on the remarks.