Pakistan Accord With Tribes Backfired, Spy Chief Says July 22 (Bloomberg) — Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s attempt to achieve a political settlement in restive tribal areas backfired, resulting in al-Qaeda establishing a safe haven there, the top U.S. intelligence official said.
Still, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said Musharraf, under pressure from Islamic militants in his country and facing criticism in the U.S., remains a critical American ally and the fall of his government would have a “severe impact” on the battle against terrorism.
“The government of Pakistan chose to try a political solution” with tribes along the border with Afghanistan, McConnell said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. Instead the tribal leaders are giving al-Qaeda “a safe haven for training and recruiting. And so, in that period of time, al- Qaeda has been able to regain some of its momentum.”
McConnell said it is his “personal view” that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is alive and hiding in the region, though U.S. spy agencies haven’t had any solid intelligence about him in more than a year. A video of him that surfaced recently on a militant Web site “was actually old videotape,” he said.
The intelligence chief made his comments four days after the Bush administration released a summary of the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which said al-Qaeda, the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., was regaining strength in Pakistan and honing its tactics in Iraq.
McConnell’s remarks were reinforced by President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend.
“They’ve been able to take advantage of the agreement between President Musharraf and the tribal elders in the federally administrated tribal area to find safe haven, to train, to recruit,” Townsend said on “Fox News Sunday.”
As she did last week, Townsend said the U.S. wouldn’t rule out taking military action inside Pakistan to act against a specific al-Qaeda threat to the U.S.
“Job No. 1 is to protect the American people, and there are no options that are off the table,” she said.
Khurshid Kasuri, the foreign minister of Pakistan, said his government is best equipped to root out al-Qaeda and other terrorists hiding on its territory.