WASHINGTON, March 11: The central nervous system for the next major terrorist attack on the US soil lies in Pakistan, say senior US officials and lawmakers.
Pakistan came under immense pressure at a US Senate hearing this week, as both officials and senators accused Islamabad of allowing terrorists to use its soil for planning attacks on the United States.
Two key US officials — director of the national intelligence and director of the military intelligence — told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pakistan had allowed Taliban to operate freely from Quetta while the tribal areas had become a “central nervous system” for Al Qaeda.
US lawmakers and officials also said that the Lashkar-e-Taiba has the ideological commitment to replace Al Qaeda as the next major terrorist group in the world. They said that the Pakistani establishment and intelligence agencies had taken some measures against the Lashkar recently but were not cooperating fully with the United States in dealing with this threat.
The committee was also told that the Lashkar had supporters among the Pakistanis living in the United States who could abet its efforts to carry out a terrorist attack in North America. “The central nervous system for the planning (of an attack on the US soil) would emanate from Fata,” said Senator Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, during a hearing on current and future worldwide threats to the national security of the United States.
“Yes, sir,” said Director of US National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair. Earlier, chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee Senator Carl Levin set the tone for the discussion on Pakistan, claiming that the Afghan Taliban forces under Mullah Omar operated with impunity from Balochistan, crossing unhampered into Southern Afghanistan while Al Qaeda was based in Fata from which attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan itself are launched.
Lt-Gen Michael Maples, director, US Defence Intelligence Agency, noted that while “strategic rivalry” with India drove Pakistan’s defence strategy, Al Qaeda was using Fata to recruit and train operatives, plan and prepare regional and trans-national attacks, disseminate propaganda and obtain equipment and supplies.
Gen Maples warned that while Pakistan has taken important steps to safeguard its nuclear weapons, “vulnerabilities still exist”. Senator Levin then asked both intelligence officials if the Taliban council in Balochistan, known as the Quetta Shura, operated openly, without interference from the government. Gen Maples agreed with the senator that “the Quetta Shura is operating openly in Quetta”.
Asked why, the general said: “I believe it is more in relation to the effect on the Pakistani population, in particular the Pashtun population that causes the Pakistani government to move at a slower pace.” Responding to another question from Senator McCain, Gen Maples said there’s direct link between the Taliban, the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani and the Miramshah Shura, and with Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
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