Pakistan on Friday criticized U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama for saying that, if elected, he might order unilateral military strikes inside this Islamic nation to root out terrorists.
Top Pakistan officials said Obama's comment was irresponsible and likely made for political reasons related to the race for the Democratic nomination for next year's U.S. presidential election.
"It's a very irresponsible statement, that's all I can say," Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khusheed Kasuri told AP Television News. "As the election campaign in America is heating up we would not like American candidates to fight their elections and contest elections at our expense."
Also Friday, a senior Pakistani official condemned another presidential hopeful, Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, for saying best way he could think of to deter a nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S. would be to threaten to retaliate by bombing the holiest Islamic sites of Mecca and Medina.
Obama triggered anger in Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, when he said in a speech Wednesday that as president he would order U.S. military action against terrorists in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan if intelligence warranted it.
Many analysts believe that top Taliban and al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden are hiding in region after escaping the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that toppled that Taliban regime after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again," Obama said. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will."
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has come under growing pressure from Washington to do more to tackle the alleged al-Qaida havens in Pakistan. U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has not ruled out military strikes, but still stresses the importance of cooperating with Pakistan.
On Friday, 1,000 tribesmen rallied in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal area, condemning recent military operations and chanting slogans against the United States for threatening to launch attacks in their areas.
"We are able to defend ourselves. We will teach a lesson to America if it attacks us," local cleric Maulvi Mohammed Roman told the rally.
The Associated Press of Pakistan reported Friday that Musharraf was asked at a dinner at Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's house on Thursday about the potential of U.S. military operations in Pakistan, and told guests Pakistan was "fully capable" of tackling terrorists in the country and did not need any foreign assistance.
Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said no foreign forces would be allowed to enter Pakistan, and said Obama appeared to be "not aware of our contribution" to the fight on terrorism.
Pakistan used to be a main backer of the Taliban, but it threw its support behind Washington following the Sept. 11 attacks, and has deployed about 90,000 troops in its tribal regions, hundreds of whom have been killed fighting militants.
But a controversial strategy to make peace with militants and use tribesmen to police Waziristan has fueled U.S. fears that al-Qaida has been given space to regroup.
In Pakistan's national assembly on Friday, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan said he would open a debate next week on recent criticism of Pakistan from several quarters in the United States, including Tancredo.
It was a matter of "grave concern that U.S. presidential candidates are using unethical and immoral tactics against Islam and Pakistan to win their election," Afghan said.
Tancredo told about 30 people at a town hall meeting in Osceola, Iowa, on Tuesday that he believes that a nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S. could be imminent and that the U.S. needs to hurry up and think of a way to stop it.
"If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do," he said.