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Page last updated at 13:43 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Pakistan rejects US strike report

US drone
Pakistan is critical of the US drone attacks

Pakistan's foreign ministry has dismissed a newspaper report suggesting the US is considering expanding military operations in Pakistan.

The New York Times quotes unnamed officials as saying that two reports sent to the White House have called for air strikes in Balochistan province.

To date, US strikes have been confined to tribal areas on the Afghan border.

Pakistan is critical of the tactic, saying civilians are often killed and it fuels anti-American sentiment.

There have been at least six drone attacks on Pakistani territory since Barack Obama became US president in January.

'Counter-productive'

"We have seen the report. It appears to be speculative and we cannot comment on speculations," the AFP news agency quotes foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit as saying.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters the Pakistani government had told the Americans that drone attacks were "counter-productive".

"They have some positive aspects as well but they cause destabilisation in Pakistan. We have told the Americans that they should arrive at a policy after considering both costs and benefits of these attacks," he said.

Quetta map

Mr Qureshi recently visited the US to participate in talks aimed at devising a new US policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The New York Times reports that President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the "American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas".

The report suggests plans to strike the Taleban in Balochistan, "where top Taleban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan".

The newspaper, quoting unnamed senior administration officials, says two high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan forwarded to the White House in recent weeks have "called for broadening the target area to include a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta".

There have been several missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal districts bordering Afghanistan since August last year and the attacks are believed to have been carried out by US drones, although this has never been formally acknowledged by the US authorities.

Pakistan's government has strongly criticised the attacks, which have led to an increase in anti-American feeling in the country.

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