Trouble mostly coming from Pakistani side, says Senator

Washington: The U.S. on Wednesday ruled out a direct role in areas of Northern Pakistan which are witnessing rising Al-Qaeda activities and said it was working with Islamabad to ensure that the region did not become a safe haven for terrorists.

Appearing before the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee on War Funding, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Pakistan had a ``strong interest'' in not allowing extremism breed in the area.

``The Vice-President [Dick Cheney] will come back ... and report to the President on what he learned. But I do think that we need to remember that the Pakistanis have a very strong interest, also, in not having extremism breed in that area,'' Ms. Rice said.

Ms. Rice, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, were appearing before the Senate panel when she was asked to comment by Republican Senator Sam Brownback on Mr. Cheney's visit to Pakistan.

Mr. Brownback observed that much of the trouble on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was ``mostly coming from the Pakistani side".

Ms. Rice and Gen. Pace also ruled out against the use of American forces in parts of Northern Pakistan to wipe out or eliminate the leadership of the Al- Qaeda.

Pakistan's denial

In Islamabad, Pakistan rejected the U.S. intelligence chief's claims that Osama bin Laden and his deputy were hiding in the country, and that the Al-Qaeda was setting up camps near the Afghan border.

U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Monday that the Al-Qaeda was trying to set up training camps and other operations in Pakistan tribal areas near Afghanistan.

Mr. McConnell had also said the U.S. intelligence officials believed Osama and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were hiding in northwestern Pakistan and trying to establish an operations base there.

``We deny it,'' Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told The Associated Press. He said there were no Al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, and that the U.S. officials had not shared any such intelligence with Pakistani authorities. PTI, AP