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Pakistan talks, CIA chief due to hold

CIA chief Leon PanettaISLAMABAD: CIA chief Leon Panetta is due to hold talks with Pakistani leaders following a report that Western intelligence uncovered a major European terror plot hatched in Pakistan, an official said Wednesday.

“Panetta will call on President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha,” a senior Pakistani official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Talks will focus on “bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation, the Afghan situation and other regional issues,” the official said. There was no comment from the US embassy.

The spy chief’s visit comes as a covert American drone war steps up missile strikes on Al-Qaeda-linked commanders in North Waziristan, Pakistan’s most notorious stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants.

Pakistani officials have reported at least 21 drone strikes in the country’s tribal belt along the Afghan border so far in September — the highest ever such number in a single month.

Local security officials say a US drone strike on Saturday killed Al-Qaeda’s operational chief for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Panetta’s visit to Islamabad also coincides with Western intelligence reports carried by British and US media that Pakistani extremists were planning an Al-Qaeda attack in London and major cities in France and Germany.

Pakistan, which is under US pressure to do more to crackdown on Al-Qaeda-linked extremists holed up in its semi-autonomous tribal belt, dismissed the reports.

“We don’t have any credible information from sources that any such planning is taking place or terrorists are planning anything in North Waziristan,”military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.

Local officials believe the alleged leaked terror plot could increase pressure on Pakistan to fight in North Waziristan, a vortex of Afghan, Pakistani and Arab militants, and a possible hiding place of Osama bin Laden.

Despite US pressures, Pakistani forces have been reluctant to launch an operation in North Waziristan, fearing a backlash of increased attacks on civilians by Islamist militants. -AFP

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