Congressman Howard Berman, the chairman of the United States' House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, has predicted that Pakistan is "perhaps the most likely launching point of a future Al Qaeda terrorist strike."
He made the remarks at a hearing on 'US Foreign Policy in Pakistan: Implications for Regional Security, Stability, and Development.'
Berman said, "The tribal regions of Pakistan provide safe haven for thousands of militants and terrorists, who seek not only to destabilise Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, but who also plan attacks around the globe."
He argued, "It is imperative that we review US foreign policy toward Pakistan to find out what is working, what is not, and how a new administration should approach this critical region."
Berman acknowledged, "With new civilian and military leadership in Pakistan, we now have a chance to establish a sustainable and mutually beneficial bilateral relationshipa relationship that recognises how unfettered extremism poses a threat to Pakistan, its neighbours, and the world, a relationship that focuses on economic and development assistance not as an afterthought but as the necessary foundation to promote long-term growth."
The lawmaker said that the new government in Islamabad also augurs for "a relationship that adheres to the values that both our nations inherently sharebolstering forces of moderation, holding dear the principles of democracy, and promoting peace and prosperity throughout Pakistan."
However, Berman expressed concern about recent reports of negotiations between the new Pakistan government and the tribal leaders, who have provided safe haven and succor to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban and even joined these groups in some of their militant activities.
Berman spelt out the challenge for the United States in the present scenario. "How can we balance the need to engage with certain tribal leaders, but still hold firm against negotiating with terrorists who will continue to fight US and troops of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Afghanistan, regardless of any truce?"
Berman said, "The obvious first step would be to create a comprehensive US strategy toward Pakistan." He pointed out, "A report released two weeks ago by the Government Accountability Office (the investigative arm of the Congress and the government watchdog agency) shows that this administration has failed to create any comprehensive, interagency plan to tackle the problems of this region."
Berman added, "Without a plan, how do we measure our performance in meeting objectives? Without a plan, how do we assure the American people that their taxpayer dollars are being put to good use? Without a plan, we make ourselves susceptible to agencies working at cross-purposes with each other."
Berman said that there were already signs that these dangers are coming to fruition and pointed out, "On Tuesday, the GAO released proof that the funds doled out by our government to support the fight against extremism in the region have been subject to little to no internal oversight."
"For example," he said, "why is the US government being asked to reimburse Pakistan for air defense radar maintenance? Al Qaeda is not known to have an air force, and the purpose of these funds is to support the fight against extremistsnot to boost Pakistan's conventional warfare capability."
In a scathing castigation of the Bush administration's policy, Berman, a Democrat who represents California, said, "This calls into question not just the value this administration has put on these tax dollars but the effectiveness of what they are doing to keep us safe."