Al-Qaeda continues to operate from Pakistan's tribal areas, a top Pentagon commander has said while noting that the long-lasting tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir are a threat to regional stability.
"Long-standing tensions between Pakistan and India also threaten regional stability as both states have substantial military forces arrayed along their borders and the disputed Kashmir Line of Control," General Lloyd J Austin, Commander of the US Central Command said in his testimony before House Armed Services Committee yesterday.
"Al-Qaeda continues to operate in Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas (FATA) and, to a lesser extent, areas of eastern Afghanistan," he said.
Austin said continued pressure on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan could result in the outfit's advancement towards less restrictive areas that would serve as safe heavens for terror activities.
He said the US faced a host of challenges in Pakistan that have long hindered the efforts of the Pakistan government to fight terrorism and America's ability to provide needed assistance.
"Central to Pakistan's struggles is its poor economy and burgeoning "youth bulge." Given these conditions, radicalism is on the rise in settled areas and threatens increased militant activity and insurgency in parts of Pakistan where the sway of the state traditionally has been the strongest," he said.
"At the same time, terrorist attacks and ethno-sectarian violence threaten the government’s tenuous control over some areas. Further compounding these internal challenges is Pakistan's strained relationships with its neighbours," he added.
The US-Pakistan military-to-military relationship has improved over the past two years, reflecting increased cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including the defeat of al Qaeda, reconciliation in Afghanistan and support for Pakistan's fight against militant and terrorist groups.
Greater security assistance, training, support and operational reimbursement through the Coalition Support Fund have enhanced Pakistan’s ability to conduct counter-insurgency (COIN)/CT operations, the Pentagon Commander said. "In November 2013, we held the second strategic-level Defence Consultative Group meeting, focused primarily on implementing a framework for promoting peace and stability based on common COIN and CT interests," he informed the lawmakers.
"The Out-Year Security Assistance Roadmap will focus on enhancing Pakistan’s precision strike, air mobility, survivability/counter-improvised explosive device (IED) capability, battlefield communications, night vision, border security and maritime security/counter-narcotics capabilities," he said.
"Additionally, we are nesting these initiatives within our Military Consultative Committee, which finalises our annual engagement plan and the USCENTCOM exercise program," Austin said. He said the end result will be a synchronisation of activities aimed at helping Pakistan build capabilities in support of their common objectives across all security cooperation lines of effort.
"While we continue to strengthen our cooperation in areas of mutual interest, we are engaging with Pakistan where our interests diverge, most notably with respect to the Haqqani Network which enjoys safe haven on Pakistan soil," General Austin said.