Pakistan gives al Qaeda a better deal than US

NY Times:

The top two American intelligence officials traveled secretly to Pakistan early this month to press President Pervez Musharraf to allow the Central Intelligence Agency greater latitude to operate in the tribal territories where Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups are all active, according to several officials who have been briefed on the visit.

But in the unannounced meetings on Jan. 9 with the two American officials — Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director — Mr. Musharraf rebuffed proposals to expand any American combat presence in Pakistan, either through unilateral covert C.I.A. missions or by joint operations with Pakistani security forces.

Instead, Pakistan and the United States are discussing a series of other joint efforts, including increasing the number and scope of missions by armed Predator surveillance aircraft over the tribal areas, and identifying ways that the United States can speed information about people suspected of being militants to Pakistani security forces, officials said.

American and Pakistani officials have questioned each other in recent months about the quality and time lines of information that the United States has given to Pakistan to use in focusing on those extremists. American officials have complained that the Pakistanis are not seriously pursuing Al Qaeda in the region.

The Jan. 9 meetings, the first visit with Mr. Musharraf by senior administration officials since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, also included the new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the director of Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj. American officials said the visit was prompted by an increasing sense of urgency at the highest levels of the United States government that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts to destabilize the Pakistani government.

The C.I.A. has fired missiles from Predator aircraft in the tribal areas several times, with varying degrees of success. Intelligence officials said they believed that in January 2006 an airstrike narrowly missed killing Ayman al-Zawahri, the second-ranking Qaeda leader, who had attended a dinner in Damadola, a Pakistani village.

Pakistani authorities, in interviews, say they have more than 100,000 troops operating in the region, including a sizable force conducting what they said was a major offensive in South Waziristan. But in the White House, the Pentagon and the C.I.A., frustrations remain high, and there is concern that Mr. Musharraf’s political problems will distract him from what the administration regards as its last chance to take aggressive action.

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Pakistan says that al Qaeda is not allowed either, but there they are and not much is being done about them. Perhaps Pakistan would ignore the US forces the same way it ignores al Qaeda. It is also possible that all of this is far domestic consumption and the covert operations will continue. The NY Times did Pakistan and the US no favor by announcing new covert operations in that country a few weeks ago.

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