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Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Published at 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistan 'objected to missile attack'

Missile target: US claims the camp was a terrorist training base

BBC correspondent Owen Bennet-Jones reports from Islamabad

The Pakistani army has issued a statement which attempts to clarify the role of an American general who came to Islamabad at the time the United States launched a cruise missile attack on targets in Afghanistan.

There has been considerable controversy in Pakistan as to whether the government in Islamabad had prior knowledge of the US action and if so, whether it made any objections known to the US.

According to the Pakistani military, the vice-chairman of the US joint chiefs-of-staff, General Joseph Ralston, spent three hours in Islamabad airport at the time the cruise missiles were launched.

[ image: Did Ralston hint at missile strikes?]
Did Ralston hint at missile strikes?
During his brief visit, he was asked about the deployment of US ships near Pakistani waters.

The Pakistani statement says the general assured Pakistani military officials that the ships posed no threat to Pakistan and were probably there for action being contemplated against terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military say they took those remarks sufficiently seriously to make an immediate report to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and they claim they told General Ralston that such an action by Washington would not be warranted.

Somewhat confusingly though, the Pakistani statement goes on to conclude that the general gave no indication of the US attack.

Western diplomats say the purpose of the US General's visit was probably to clarify, if necessary, that the missile attack came from the US and not from India.

Ever since India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests, there has been considerable concern in the West that the two countries' early warning systems are so poorly developed that there's a risk of a conflict between India and Pakistan being triggered by false perceptions of each other's intentions.

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