Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is alive and based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan but his ability to carry out terrorist attacks has been “significantly limited”, said a top U.S. diplomat on Thursday.
Gerald M Feierstein, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy here, also said top Taliban leaders operating from the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, including Mullah Omar, are playing a key role in fomenting unrest in Afghanistan.
About Osama, he said the world’s most wanted terrorist was alive and based in the tribal region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The Al-Qaeda chief’s ability to carry out terrorist activities had been “significantly limited” and he did not appear to have day-to-day command over operations by militants, Mr. Feierstein told a group of Pakistani journalists.
However, Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives continue to draw inspiration from Osama, he said.
Mr. Feierstein said the U.S. had information that the “command centre” of the “Quetta Shura” or council of the Taliban, comprising commanders from the erstwhile militant regime that ruled Afghanistan, is based in the suburbs of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province. Mullah Omar is among the Taliban leaders based in Quetta, said Mr. Feierstein.
Mr. Feierstein’s comments came hours after Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Mullah Omar was not based in Balochistan. Mr. Malik told reporters that the Pakistan government had informed the U.S. leadership that the Taliban commanders were not operating from Quetta. He also said Pakistan would take action if there was credible information about their presence in the country.
Mr. Feierstein said the Pakistan government should act “aggressively” to neutralise the leadership of Taliban’s Quetta Shura.
The militant commanders should be detained and prevented from using Pakistani soil for their activities as this will help improve the situation in Afghanistan, he said.
Though the “locus” of the volatile situation is in Afghanistan, Balochistan and Pakistan’s tribal belt are “part of the problem” as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership is based there, said Mr. Feierstein.
He expressed satisfaction at the level of cooperation between Pakistani and U.S. intelligence and security agencies.
American counter-terror experts are training personnel from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, Intelligence Bureau, Frontier Corps and police to enhance their capabilities to take on militants and extremists, he added.