Washington, Sept 28 : President Asif Ali Zardari has denied that US and Pakistani forces had exchanged fire along the Afghan border this week, even as the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged the two sides engaged in a brief firefight.
The Washington Post quoted Zardari as saying that Pakistani border forces shot warning flares on Thursday at two US helicopters that he believes inadvertently crossed into Pakistani territory from Afghanistan.
The Dawn quoted Zardari as saying that there was no gunfire exchanged between the two sides. "We fired flares at them," he said.
But Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told journalists in Washington on Friday that Pakistani forces fired on two US helicopters supporting a ground unit and that American troops responded with small-arms fire.
"There was a cross-border fire incident yesterday," Mullen said, corroborating reports from US and Nato military officials.
Zardari, however, played down the significance of American incursions into Pakistan in recent weeks, referring to a September 3 operation that led Pakistan to accuse US commandos of killing 20 people in a South Waziristan village as a "one-off" incident.
He praised President Bush's leadership in the fight against terrorism. "Obviously, the world is a safer place," he said. "It could have been worse."
At the same time, Zardari warned that "the axis of evil is growing."
He cited last Saturday's massive bombing at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, which killed more than 50 people, and pressed the Bush administration to step up intelligence cooperation with Pakistan to help confront militants.