Thursday, March 01, 2007

PAKISTAN AND COMPANY with Taliban and al Qaeda

Al Qaeda, Taliban have 'critical sanctuaries' in Pakistan

Washington: Al Qaeda and the Taliban maintain "critical sanctuaries" in Pakistan's northwestern tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, according to a top US intelligence official, but the US is not yet ready to play a direct role there.

Washington is working with Islamabad to ensure that the region does not become a safe haven for terrorists as Pakistan also has a "strong interest" in not allowing extremism to breed there, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.

Vice president Dick Cheney, who has reportedly delivered a tough message to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, will "report to the president on what he learned", she told the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee on War Funding.

"But I do think that we need to remember that the Pakistanis have a very strong interest, also, in not having extremism breed in that area," she added, ruling out a direct US role.

Rice's comments came a day after Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while 75 percent of Al Qaeda's leadership has been killed or captured, a new generation of terrorists is training in Iraq, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and East Africa.

McConnell, who recently succeeded John Negroponte, now serving as Rice's deputy as head of 16 agencies that make up the US intelligence community, said both Al Qaeda and the Taliban maintain "critical sanctuaries" in Pakistan's northwestern tribal regions.

Eliminating these strongholds will be top US priorities in Afghanistan this year along with breaking the link between militants and local warlords profiting from drug trafficking, he said.

Criticising Musharraf for making agreements with local tribal leaders who since have allowed the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regroup, McConnell said, "The president of Pakistan believed that he could be more effective by signing this peace agreement.

"And in our point of view, capabilities of Al Qaeda for training and so on increased," he said adding, "We believe (Pakistan) could do more.