Pakistan Denies It Harbors Qaeda Fighters

Pakistani protesters torch an effigy of US President George W. Bush and a US flag as they protest against the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during a protest in Karachi, 12 January 2007.
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Rejecting the U.S. intelligence chief's accusations that Pakistan is harboring al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, Islamabad said Friday it remains committed to fighting international terrorism and extremism.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte's claim that Pakistan represents a major source of Islamic extremism and a refuge for top terror leaders is "incorrect."

"In breaking the back of al Qaeda, Pakistan has done more than any other country in the world," the statement said.

Later, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in statement released after a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher in Islamabad on Friday that his country maintains "unwavering commitment to fight extremism and terrorism."

Pakistan and the U.S. appear to be heading towards another bitter disagreement over the extent to which al Qaeda has positioned itself in the south Asian country, making it the hub of its activities, reports CBS News correspondent Farhan Bokhari.

Negroponte said in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that "eliminating the safe haven that the Taliban and other extremists have found in Pakistan's tribal areas is not sufficient to end the insurgency in Afghanistan, but it is necessary."

Negroponte's statement contended that al Qaeda's main network operated out of Pakistan.

NATO and the Afghan government say Taliban and al Qaeda guerrillas are launching attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan. Violence rose sharply in Afghanistan in 2006, with militants killing about 4,000 people in what was the deadliest year since the U.S.-led coalition swept the Taliban from power in 2001.

U.S. officials have said they believe al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other top terror commanders are taking refuge in the region, likely on the Pakistani side of the border. Pakistan has repeatedly rejected such claims.

"As part of international coalition against terrorism, our efforts are also helping the international community to counter this grave danger," the Pakistani statement said. "When Mr. Negroponte mentions the capture and killing of hundreds of al Qaeda members since 9/11, he should acknowledge the efforts of the country that made this possible."

Pakistan became a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism after it severed support for the Taliban militia in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

"Pakistan remains committed to fighting international terrorism and extremism. In this endeavor, the focus must always remain on cooperation instead of questionable criticism," said said Tasnim Aslam, Pakistan's foreign ministry spokeswoman in the statement.

The latest exchange between the two countries appeared to underline an underlying discomfort between Pakistan and the U.S., says Bokhari.

Diplomats based in Islamabad said Negroponte's remarks seemed to underline U.S. frustration over Pakistan in spite of Washington's recognition of the support it has received from Pakistan. Last year, a growing number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan prompted claims from western officials, including U.S. officials, that Pakistan had failed to curb the flow of "Taliban" suspects who allegedly routinely cross over the border with Afghanistan.

"Many of these 'Taliban' suspects are involved in attacks on western troops. This must cause a lot of frustration in Washington," said one Arab diplomat in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, who asked not to be named.

Pakistani officials said Negroponte's remarks appeared to overlook the failure by US and Afghan security troops in curbing militancy in Afghanistan.

"It's the failure of the U.S. in tackling militant movements which continues to keep groups like al Qaeda alive," said a Pakistani government official who asked not to be named. "Rather than pointing fingers at Pakistan, the Americans should ask themselves, why is it that they have not been able to curb this problem, five years after the war on terror was launched?"

Boucher praised Pakistan's commitment against terrorism.

"The U.S. is clearly following a two-track policy with Pakistan," the Arab diplomat told Bokhari. "It knows there is a big problem, but it doesn't want to break off the relationship with Pakistan so it occasionally also commends Pakistan."