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Stronger Qaida shifts focus to Pak: US

Washington, Dec. 22: A resurgent al Qaida terrorist network has shifted the focus of its attacks to Pakistan, defence secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday.

“Al Qaida right now seems to have turned its face toward Pakistan and attacks on the Pakistani government and Pakistan people,” Gates told reporters.

The Pentagon chief did not specify the nature or location of the group’s operations in the South Asian nation, but he went on say that al Qaida has “re-established itself” along Pakistan’s ungoverned area along its border with Afghanistan.

Gates’s assessment of the group’s revival echoed the findings of US intelligence officials this summer that al Qaida has gained strength and established safe havens in western Pakistan where it could plan attacks.

Robert Cardillo, the defence intelligence agency’s deputy director for analysis, at the time blamed the group’s revival on an agreement Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made with tribal chiefs in 2006 to withdraw army units from the border.

But the notion that the terrorist group is turning its efforts against Pakistan indicates that the Bush administration views the current tumult in Pakistan as a battle against al Qaida rather than an internal struggle between Musharraf and other political figures. Gates also said that the Pakistani army has had “some success” with its recent fighting against militants in the Swat region.

Experts on Pakistani security affairs had mixed reactions to Gates’s assertions. “I think Gates is right on this one,” said Karl F. Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asia. “I have little doubt that al Qaida is turning its attention to Pakistan to further destabilise the chaotic political situation there.” He noted that in September, Osama bin Laden called on Pakistanis to fight Musharraf, his army and his other supporters.

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