UNITED NATIONS — Angered by U.S. raids into Pakistan in search of terrorists, Pakistan's new president warned Thursday that his country cannot allow its territory to "be violated by our friends."
After placing a picture of his assassinated wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, on the podium, President Asif Ali Zardari told world leaders that such attacks strengthen the extremists the United States and others are trying to destroy.
His speech at the U.N. General Assembly, which often emotionally described Pakistan's battle against terrorists, comes at a tense moment in U.S.-Pakistan relations.
Pakistani soldiers fired at U.S. reconnaissance helicopters along the Pakistan-Afghan border Thursday, officials said, sparking a ground battle between American and Pakistani soldiers.
Two American OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, known as Kiowas, were on a routine patrol in the eastern province of Khost when they received small arms fire from the Pakistani border post, said Tech Sgt. Kevin Wallace, a U.S. military spokesman in Bagram. Zardari said only "flares" were fired at foreign helicopters that he said had strayed across the border from Afghanistan into his country.
"Just as we will not let Pakistan's territory to be used by terrorists for attacks against our people and our neighbors, we cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends," Zardari said. "Unilateral actions of great powers should not inflame the passions of allies."
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is deemed crucial to U.S.-led efforts to battle extremists in South Asia. The United States has pushed Pakistan to crack down on extremists using the border region with Afghanistan as a safe haven, and has stepped up attacks on suspected militants in Pakistan's frontier area, mostly by missiles fired from unmanned drones operating from Afghanistan.
But the unilateral incursions — especially a ground raid into South Waziristan by American commandos Sept. 3 — have infuriated Pakistanis already wary of their country's ties to the United States and have strained ties between Washington and Zardari's new government.
Zardari, in his speech, called on the world to "take notice" that Pakistan is not the cause of terrorism.
Referring to last week's deadly hotel bombing in the Pakistani capital, Zardari said that, "once again, Pakistan is the great victim in the war on terror. And once again our people wonder whether we stand alone."
Pakistan's military has won American praise for a recent offensive against militants. Many in Washington, however, say Pakistan has not done enough with the billions in aid the United States has provided to fight terrorists.