New York: Committed Pakistani jihadists with ties to Afghan militants have replaced the slain top al-Qaeda leaders killed by US drones in the country`s restive tribal region, which analysts fear could plunge into "deeper chaos" after American troops leave neighbouring Afghanistan in 2014.
"From multibillion-dollar military aid to stealthy and secretive drone strikes, Pakistan, perhaps even more than Afghanistan, has been the central focus of America`s 12-year war" on terror, the New York Times reported today.
The paper said, "although many senior leaders of Al Qaeda sheltering there have been felled by CIA missiles, they have been largely replaced by committed Pakistani jihadists with ties that span the border with Afghanistan."
The unruly tribal belt in northwestern Pakistan, a hotbed of Islamist militancy, has witnessed about 360 US drone strikes in the past decade, killing several high-ranking al-Qaeda commanders who took shelter in the restive region.
"Under pressure from Washington, Pakistan helped the CIA arrest some jihadists, while it quietly sheltered other armed militant groups, like the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, who were seen as furthering Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and India," the NYT said.
"With American combat troops leaving Afghanistan in 2014, and the drone campaign already winding down in Pakistan, analysts fear that unless the Pakistani Army can assert itself conclusively, the tribal region could be plunged into deeper chaos," the paper said.
"It`s going to be a lot of trouble," Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a Pakistani academic and defense analyst, was quoted as saying by the paper.
"If the insurgency increases in Afghanistan, it will spill into Pakistan`s tribal areas, where the Taliban will become very confident."
For 12 years, the United States` security-driven policy has shaped power, politics and militancy in Pakistan, a country with a network of seemingly indefatigable jihadi groups and a stockpile of over 100 nuclear warheads, it said.
Pakistan has witnessed an Islamist surge in recent years that has killed tens of thousands of people across the nation.
"Pakistani leaders who have long demanded an American exit from their region may get their wish, but a broader disengagement is also likely to diminish the financing, prestige and political importance Pakistan held as a crucial player in global counter-terrorism efforts, and could upset its internal stability," it said.