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Pakistan denies harboring al-Qaida leaders

Rejecting the U.S. intelligence chief’s accusations that Pakistan is harboring al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, Islamabad said Friday it remains committed to fighting international terrorism and extremism.
John Negroponte
Outgoing National Intelligence Director John Negroponte testifies on Capitol Hill on Thursday.Lawrence Jackson / AP
/ Source: news services

Rejecting the U.S. intelligence chief’s accusations that Pakistan is harboring al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, Islamabad said Friday it remains committed to fighting international terrorism and extremism.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte’s claim that Pakistan represents a major source of Islamic extremism and a refuge for top terror leaders is “incorrect.”

“In breaking the back of al-Qaida, Pakistan has done more than any other country in the world,” the statement said.

Negroponte said in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that “eliminating the safe haven that the Taliban and other extremists have found in Pakistan’s tribal areas is not sufficient to end the insurgency in Afghanistan, but it is necessary.”

NATO and the Afghan government say Taliban and al-Qaida guerrillas are launching attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan. Violence rose sharply in Afghanistan in 2006, with militants killing about 4,000 people in what was the deadliest year since the U.S.-led coalition swept the Taliban from power in 2001.

Negroponte: Al-Qaida rebuilding network in Pakistan
In a testimony to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Negroponte wrote, without naming bin Laden or al-Zawahri, that al-Qaida leaders are holed up in a secure hide-out in Pakistan.

He said they were rebuilding a network that has been decimated by the capture or killing of hundreds of al-Qaida members since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan has repeatedly rejected such claims.

“As part of international coalition against terrorism, our efforts are also helping the international community to counter this grave danger,” the Pakistani statement said. “When Mr. Negroponte mentions the capture and killing of hundreds of al-Qaida members since 9/11, he should acknowledge the efforts of the country that made this possible.”

Pakistan became a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism after it severed support for the Taliban militia in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Many security analysts suspect that bin Laden is likely to be hiding in Pakistan’s tribal regions or neighboring districts of North West Frontier Province.

There has also been speculation that he may have died, though intelligence agencies say they have not picked up any supporting evidence.

A half-dozen audio tapes of bin Laden were circulated in the first half of 2006, but the al-Qaida leader last appeared in video tape in late 2004. Subsequent tapes released were identified as old footage.

Al-Zawahri, meantime, has had several tapes released. On Jan. 5, an audiotape was posted on the Web by al-Qaida’s media arm al-Sahab, exhorting Somali Islamists to attack Ethiopia. The authenticity of the tape could not be verified, but correspondents familiar with al-Zawahri’s voice said it was his.

Hit and miss
In January last year CIA-operated drone aircraft carried out a missile strike on Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal region based on information that al-Zawahri might be there.

The strike on Damadola village did not kill al-Zawahri, though it possibly eliminated a handful of al-Qaida militants. It killed 18 villagers.

Analysts say Pakistan’s denials that it was informed of the strike beforehand were aimed at off-setting domestic criticism of its alliance with the United States.

Last October, around 80 men, some of them young boys, were killed in a missile attack on a madrasa in Bajaur, though this time the Pakistan military said it carried out the operation.

In his testimony, Negroponte acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts in the fight against terrorism but said it was also a “major source of Islamic extremism.”

He also noted President Pervez Musharraf was aware of the risk of sparking a revolt among ethnic Pashtuns living in the tribal belt straddling the border, as well as the political risks of a backlash from Islamist political parties, especially as national elections are due in Pakistan this year.