Washington, May 31 (IANS) The United States is increasing pressure on Pakistan for much broader airline passenger information, considered a crucial tool to track terrorist travel patterns, but a step that Pakistan has resisted, according to the New York Times.
Pakistan, like other countries, currently provides the names of airline passengers travelling to the United States. But the Obama administration is pressing for information on Pakistanis who fly to other countries, to feed into databases that can detect patterns used by terrorists, their financiers, logisticians and others who support them, the influential US daily said citing unnamed American officials.
Pakistan has for several years rebuffed this politically unpopular request as an invasion of its citizens’ privacy. But the issue is now on a ‘short list’ of sticking points between the two countries that have intensified since the failed Times Square car bombing on May 1, two senior administration officials cited by the Times said.
President Barack Obama has given his top aides a deadline of the next few weeks to resolve the issues with Pakistan, the officials cited by the Times said.
That pressure to deliver results has prompted senior officials like Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Leon E. Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to warn senior Pakistani leaders of the risks to the country’s relationship with the United States if a deadly terrorist attack originated in their country.
Some American aides have told Pakistani officials that the United States might be forced to increase airstrikes in Pakistan in the event of such an attack, though two senior American military officials cited by the Times said there was no special planning under way for such action.
In their visit to Islamabad two weeks ago, General Jones and Panetta presented Pakistan president, Asif Ali Zardari, and other top civilian and military officials with a description of links between the Pakistani Taliban and Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American arrested by the American authorities as the main suspect in the Times Square case, an administration official was quoted as saying.
‘In the wake of the failed Times Square terrorist attack and its direct links to extremist groups based in Pakistan, the president instructed General Jones and Director Panetta to go deliver a clear message to Pakistani authorities of the need to step up our counterterrorism cooperation to prevent an attack on the homeland and to address a common terrorist threat,’ Michael A. Hammer, a National Security Council spokesman, said in an e-mail message to the Times Sunday.
The renewed urgency in the negotiations comes against the backdrop of evidence that both Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi, a former airport shuttle bus driver arrested last fall as the main suspect in a failed plot to bomb three New York City subway lines, received training in Pakistan’s tribal areas.