Washington, Jan.28 : If U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is to be believed, al Qaeda poses more than an internal threat to Pakistan, both in the near term and long-term future.
Addressing reporters here last week, Gates said it would be unrealistic to presume that the terror network's current trend of planning is solely targetted at Pakistan.
He claimed that a regenerating al-Qaeda is posing fresh threats to both the U.S. and Europe.
Gates further said that while Washington respects Islamabad's right to decide what is needed to defeat the extremists on its soil, there is cause for worry.
"I think we are all concerned about the re-establishment of al-Qaeda safe havens in the border area. I think it would be unrealistic to assume that all of the planning that they're doing is focused strictly on Pakistan. So, I think that that is a continuing threat to Europe as well as to us," USA Today quoted Gates, as saying.
In recent days, Bush Administration officials have said they would send more U.S. forces, including small numbers of combat troops, if the Pakistani government decided it wanted to collaborate more closely. However, it is far from certain that American troops will set foot in Pakistan in any substantial numbers, as President Pervez Musharraf is already on record as saying that his country is opposed to any foreign forces on Pakistan soil.
The top two U.S. intelligence officials made a secret visit to Pakistan in early January to seek Musharraf's permission for greater involvement of American forces in trying to ferret out al-Qaeda and other militant groups active in the tribal regions, a senior U.S. official said Saturday. Musharraf was said to have rebuffed an expansion of an American presence in Pakistan at the meeting, either through overt CIA. missions or by joint operations with Pakistani security forces.
As far as the situation in Afghanistan is cocerned, from an American viewpoint, it is better than what prevails in Pakistan. The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has grown over the past two years from about 20,000 to the current total of 28,000. That is the highest number of the war, which began in October 2001. The total is to jump by 3,200 this spring with a new influx of Marine reinforcements, including 2,200 combat troops who will bolster a NATO-led counterinsurgency force in the south.
"There is strong pressure now from the international community to find some solution to Afghanistan because of the fear that this could quickly go south," said Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 2006-07, he was an adviser to Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Tellis said he is favour of strengthening the U.S. military presence in southern Afghanistan.
Teresita C. Schaffer, director for South Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Friday that an important indicator of that approach was the recent visit to Pakistan by Admiral William J. Fallon, the commander of American forces in that region. Fallon met with senior officials, including the new chief of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.
"It suggests to me that the administration is taking this much more seriously than it was." That has meant more attentiveness to the needs of U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, including officers' concerns about countering the threat inside Pakistan. The sense I get is that at least in military terms they are getting a response from Washington which they weren't getting all along," said Schaffer, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia under President George Herbert Bush.