Pakistan may be launching point of future Al Qaeda strikes’

May 8th, 2008 - 11:07 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 8 (IANS) Pakistan’s tribal region is the most likely launching point of future Al Qaeda terrorist strikes around the world, says a senior US lawmaker seeking a review of Washington’s Pakistan policy. The tribal regions of Pakistan provide safe haven for thousands of militants and terrorists who seek not only to destabilize Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, but who also plan attacks around the globe,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard L. Berman said at a hearing Wednesday.

Defence experts “have singled out the region as perhaps the most likely launching point of a future Al Qaeda terrorist strike,” he said opening the hearing on “US Foreign Policy in Pakistan: Implications for Regional Security, Stability, and Development”

“For this reason, I believe it’s imperative that we review US foreign policy toward Pakistan to find out what is working, what is not, and how a new Administration should approach this critical region,” Berman, a Democratic lawmaker, said.

The new civilian and military leadership in Pakistan, he said provides the US “a chance to establish a sustainable and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship; a relationship that recognizes how unfettered extremism poses a threat to Pakistan, its neighbours, and the world.”

However, Berman expressed concern about recent reports of negotiations between the new Pakistan government and the tribal leaders, “who have provided safe haven and succour to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban and even joined these groups in some of their militant activities.”

Noting a report released two weeks ago by the Government Accountability Office “shows that this administration has failed to create any comprehensive, interagency plan to tackle the problems of this region,” he said the government watchdog agency had provided “proof that the funds doled out by our government to support the fight against extremism in the region have been subject to little to no internal oversight.”

“For example,why is the US government being asked to reimburse Pakistan for air defence radar maintenance? Al Qaeda is not known to have an air force, and the purpose of these funds is to support the fight against extremists, not to boost Pakistan’s conventional warfare capability,” he asked.

The Ranking Republican on the House Panel, Ilena Ros-Lehtinen welcomed the new government in Islamabad and its “daunting agenda”, including the elimination of safe havens for violent Islamist extremists and finding ways to marginalize the appeal of local Islamist militants.

“The US has a powerful interest in the security and stability of the tribal areas as we work with Pakistan to develop a sustainable counterinsurgency plan that brings an end to Al Qaeda and Taliban activity, an end to the training of suicide bombers, and a cessation of cross-border attacks,” she said.

Thomas Pickering, a former US ambassador to India, called for a sustained and long term effort to reduce antagonisms between Afghanistan and Pakistan with the goals of rooting out support for the Taliban and its ideology.

Pakistan, he said, remains divided with President Pervez Musharraf, previously the US chosen favourite, in serious if not total decline.

“The two opposition parties, weakened by the loss of Benazir Bhutto, are not certain to be able to provide the kind of leadership desired to see the struggle against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism inside Pakistan and in Afghanistan continue and move toward success” he said.

“Pakistan has shown itself, in the short term at least, weakened in this effort by the shift away from Musharraf and an increasingly independent line taken by the opposition parties who are acutely aware of the dangers but also wish to avoid being seen as US surrogates inside Pakistan,” Pickering said.

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