ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's government eased its rhetoric yesterday against unilateral U.S. attacks on militant havens near the Afghan border, saying it hopes quiet diplomacy will convince Washington that the raids only inflame sentiment against leaders of both countries.
Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar claimed Washington already has agreed to curtail its military activities against militants in Pakistan, although a missile strike Friday killed at least 12 people.
Most U.S. cross-border activity has been limited to missiles fired by unmanned drone aircraft. But in a Sept. 3 attack, helicopter-borne U.S. ground forces were used in an operation that killed at least 15, an escalation of U.S. military force.
"As far as my information, we have taken it up at the highest level with the State Department and Pentagon," Mukhtar said in an apparent reference to the U.S. use of ground forces.
"They have given us assurance that it would not be repeated. The agreement we have with them is that we will exchange information and the Pakistan military or [paramilitary] forces will take action against terrorists in Pakistan," Mukhtar added.
The White House declined comment on the remarks, as it largely has done since reports emerged Thursday that President Bush secretly approved more aggressive cross-border operations in July as part of a strategy to fight the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
Since Aug. 13, there have been at least seven reported missile strikes, as well as the ground forces operation, in tribally governed territory where the government has little control. The border region is considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters late Friday that Pakistan would prefer to resolve any issue with Washington through diplomatic channels, adding that the issue will be discussed on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.
"Due to this American policy, the tribal people will join militants and our work will be damaged," he said hours after the latest missile strike. "We will not allow anyone to interfere inside our country."
A group of tribal elders representing about a half-million people in the North Waziristan area, where most of the missile attacks have occurred, threatened yesterday to join forces with Taliban militants in Afghanistan.