US Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte’s statement that Al-Qaeda leaders are holed up in a secure Pakistani hideout has stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest. He conceded that Pakistan was America’s ‘partner’ in the war on terror and had captured several Al-Qaeda leaders, but maintained that it was also a “major source of Islamic extremism.” There are two ways of looking at this statement. First, that Mr Negroponte, who is to soon become US Deputy Secretary of State, was wearing his intelligence chief hat and could only say what he did say. The second is that the US is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to crack down in the Northwest Frontier Province tribal areas. But the greater significance of Mr Negroponte’s testimony to a US Senate Committee is the changed assessment of the Al-Qaeda. Instead of being a leaderless and isolated outfit, it has rebuilt its network and radiating influence towards West Asia, North Africa and Europe. As for the Taliban, which Mr Negroponte charged was also rebuilding itself in Pakistan, its restored capabilities have not been a secret.
Ever since December 2001 when Osama bin Laden escaped a US siege at Tora Bora mountains on the Pakistan border, there has been an assumption that he is hiding somewhere on the mountainous Pakistan-Afghanistan border. By specifically pinpointing Pakistan as his most likely location, the US has also fed grist to the Afghan mill. Not surprisingly, the attitude of the Hamid Karzai government has been “We told you so”.
Significantly, the remarks come at a time when analysts are predicting a major Taliban offensive aimed at recapturing Kabul in the coming spring. Therefore, it would not be surprising if the Americans are working on a strategy to get Pakistan to resume its tough stand against the Waziristan tribesmen. Last September, the Pakistani army worked out a ceasefire with the tribal elders there. But American officials say that the latter have not kept their part of the bargain and allowed the free movement of Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements. The Al-Qaeda does not directly affect India, but we have a deep and abiding interest in what happens in the Pakistani tribal area and Afghanistan which have in the past provided training areas to terrorists who have attacked India.