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Pakistan hub of Al-Qaeda web: US

india Updated: Jan 12, 2007 12:18 IST
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The United States has identified Pakistan as the hub of a worldwide web of Al-Qaeda connections while asserting that India, which has been a major target for jihadis due to insurgency in Kashmir, would remain a reliable ally against global terrorism.

Describing Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation that poses the greatest threat to US interests, US intelligence chief John Negroponte told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday that its leaders are holed up in a secure hideout in Pakistan, from where they are revitalising their bruised but resilient network.

Pakistan has apparently been singled out for the first time in a Congressional testimony as the centre of the network accused of the Sep 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed 3,000 people.

"They are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe," he said in his annual assessment of worldwide threats against the US and its interests.

In contrast, India's role in South Asia came in for fulsome praise from Negroponte, who became director of national intelligence in April 2005 and will soon leave to become deputy secretary of state.

"We expect that India's growing confidence on the world stage as a result of its sustained high rates of economic growth will make New Delhi a more effective partner for the US but also a more formidable interlocutor in areas of disagreement, particularly in the World Trade Organisation (WTO)," he said.

"New Delhi seeks to play a role in fostering democracy in the region, especially in Nepal and Bangladesh, and will continue to be a reliable ally against global terrorism, given the fact that India is a major target for jihadists (people who fight in defence of Islam) in part because of the insurgency in Kashmir," Negroponte added.

Noting that the three-year peace process between India and Pakistan has lessened tensions in the region and both sides appear committed to improving the bilateral relationship, he said: "New Delhi's threshold for responding militarily to terrorist attacks has apparently increased since the two countries last approached the brink of war in 2002.

"Nonetheless, New Delhi's concerns about Pakistan's tolerance, at a minimum, of terrorist attacks on Indian soil remains a dominant theme in relations, and risk derailing rapprochement."

An attack on a high-profile target might lead New Delhi to take action to curtail militant capabilities in Pakistan or Pakistan-administered Kashmir and punish Islamabad for its continued support to Pakistan-based militants, he said adding, "We remain concerned about the potential that such a conflict could escalate."

The Mumbai train bombings last year disrupted but ultimately did not derail the composite dialogue and a mechanism for exchanging information on terrorist attacks has been established, Negroponte noted.

"Yet, the prospect of renewed tensions between the two remains despite these improved relations, and we are mindful that Pakistan was a major source of nuclear proliferation until our efforts disrupted AQ Khan's network," he said.

Although both New Delhi and Islamabad are fielding a more mature strategic nuclear capability, they do not appear to be engaged in a Cold War-style arms race based on a quest for numerical superiority, he said.

For its part, Pakistan is a frontline partner in the war on terror. Nevertheless, it remains a major source of Islamic extremism and the home for some top terrorist leaders, Negroponte said.

Meanwhile, democracy has not been fully restored since the army took over power in 1999.

With elections expected later this year, Pervez Musharraf continues to be criticised for remaining both the president and chief of army staff, but there are no political leaders inside the country able to challenge his continued leadership, he said.

Musharraf's secular opponents are in disarray, and the main Islamic parties continue to suffer from internal divisions and an inability to expand their support base, said Negroponte.

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