'No takeover'

Fighting has escalated sharply in nuclear-armed Pakistan since Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, was assassinated last month in an attack blamed on an al-Qaeda-linked tribal leader.

But speaking in Paris on the second leg of a European tour, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, said there was a "zero per cent chance" of an al-Qaeda takeover of the country.

Musharraf is under pressure to rein in
al-Qaeda and Taliban-inspired fighters [AFP]
The only way for that to happen, he said, would be if al-Qaeda or the Taliban "defeated the Pakistani army entirely" or if hardline religious groups won next month's elections.

Musharraf is touring Europe to boost his image as a key ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The alliance has brought more than $10bn in US aid to Pakistan since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Yet a new wave of violence has seen tribal fighters massing in large numbers to attack isolated military outposts.

Also on Tuesday, Admiral William Fallon, head of US Central Command, which deals with the Middle East, held talks in Rawalpindi with General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's army chief.

"He [Fallon] remained with him for some time and discussed matters of professional interest with particular reference to [the] security situation in the region," a Pakistani military statement said.