Washington: Even after the killing of Osama bin Laden last year, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups maintain a strong presence in Pakistan, a top US Senator said on Tuesday.
"Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups maintain a strong presence in the country," Senator Richard Lugar, Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said during a Congressional hearing.
But, Pakistan still remains a country worth engagement, he said.
"There is no question that the threat of these groups, combined with worries about state collapse, conflict between India and Pakistan, the safety of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and Pakistan’s intersection with other states in the region make it a strategically vital country worth the cost of engagement," the top Republican Senator said.
Lugar said the contradictions inherent in Pakistani society and government necessitate that the US applies intense oversight to ensure that its assistance and diplomacy advance the American objectives.
"It is worth noting that in 2011 almost 3,200 Pakistanis died in terrorist-related incidents. Despite our differences, our countries have strong incentives to cooperate on economic and security issues," the Senator said.
American policy in Afghanistan has been evolving on the margins, he said adding that troop levels are anticipated to be reduced in the coming months, and we have seen some narrowing of the mission.
"However, the United States continues to spend enormous sums in that country on national building objectives that ultimately may contribute little to US vital interests. We need a clear explanation of what metrics must be satisfied to achieve the original intent of the mission - to prevent Afghanistan territory from being used as a terrorist safe haven," he said.
"It is essential that Afghanistan is viewed in the broader strategic context and that its policy there is not determined by political optics or inertia," he said.
"The country is important, but does not hold that level of strategic value for us, especially at a time when our nation is confronting a debt crisis, our armed forces have been strained by repeated combat deployments, and we are attempting to place more emphasis on East Asia," Lugar said.
He said that the US must focus its attention on Pakistan as al Qaeda has a far more significant presence in that country than in Afghanistan.
"To the extent that our purpose in Afghanistan is to confront the global terrorist threat, we should be refocusing resources on Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, parts of North Africa, and other locations," the Senator said.