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US withdrawal plan puts Pak in focus

As the US looks ahead to its phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, even more attention is being directed toward Pakistan, where Obama administration officials say al Qaeda and its allies are still plotting attacks against the West. What Clinton said to us Foreign Relations panel

world Updated: Jun 25, 2011 01:32 IST

As the US looks ahead to its phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, even more attention is being directed toward Pakistan, where Obama administration officials say al Qaeda and its allies are still plotting attacks against the West.

They argue that threat has been neutralised in Afghanistan, a key justification for President Barack Obama's announcement on Wednesday that the US will withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer.

Afghanistan could take on new significance for the US as a base to launch unilateral strikes against militants inside neighbouring Pakistan, an unstable nuclear-armed country that many analysts say is more strategically important than Afghanistan.

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"We haven't seen a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years," said a senior administration official in a briefing given to reporters in Washington before Obama's speech. "The threat has come from Pakistan over the past half-dozen years or so, and longer."

Since Pakistan effectively prohibits American troops inside the country and has been a reluctant ally in targeting militants the US deems a threat, Washington has increasingly relied on covert CIA drone missile strikes to target al Qaeda and Taliban fighters holed up in Pakistan's mountainous border region with Afghanistan.

The US refuses to acknowledge the drone program in Pakistan, but Obama alluded to its effectiveness in his speech, saying "together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda's leadership."

But the future of the drone program in Pakistan could be threatened by pervasive anti-American sentiment and anger over the US commando raid that killed bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2.