ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 28 (UPI) -- Pakistani intelligence officials fear al Qaida fighters have infiltrated into many of the nation's large cities and have joined forces with anti-American guerrillas at a time when growing tensions with India have taken up more of the government's attention and resources.
A group of senior officials said in the Wednesday edition of The New York Times that anti-American sentiment in Pakistan remained strong and that an influx of al Qaida terrorists routed from Afghanistan was raising the danger level.
"Broadly speaking there is an anti-west, anti-American movement now in Pakistan," said one official. "There could be danger to individuals. It could hit the president (of Pakistan), or anyone."
The officials told the newspaper that contrary to U.S. military planners' conclusions, al Qaida and Taliban fighters had regrouped near the border with Afghanistan, and it was their opinion that the fugitives were filtering into urban areas.
"We have had several raids in the western border areas, but we have had no success with them," a top official of the Inter-Services Intelligence told The Times.
The officials dismissed suspicions among some western intelligence analysts that terrorists had secret allies in Pakistan's intelligence services, but they acknowledged that Pakistan's already limited capabilities to ferret out al Qaida or Taliban infiltrators were being weakened by the need to commit troops to the Pakistan-India border.
"Protecting the border with India must be our priority," one official declared. "India has a much larger army than we do, so we have left behind some troops and warned them they could be transferred at a moment's notice to the eastern border. If we didn't have this situation with India, we could do much better."
The situation apparently has helped the terrorists from Afghanistan move around Pakistan and link up with groups such as the Sunni Muslim Lashkar-e-Jhangvi organization.
The Times said Pakistan has turned up indications of al Qaida involvement in a number of recent high-profile terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and a car-bombing in Karachi that killed a dozen French engineers working on a naval project for the Pakistani government.
The nature of the evidence was not disclosed, but the officials indicated that the infiltration of Pakistan's cities might be in part a necessity for al Qaida because of a surprising level of cooperation with the government by tribes in remote, virtually lawless areas where analysts had thought al Qaida might find sympathizers and sanctuary.
The officials said that rural residents have provided frequent tips to the authorities, in part due to efforts by the government to improve relations with tribal residents and also due to a general dislike of al Qaida's Arab members.
"We are determined to integrate these tribal areas into the nation so that they can never provide sanctuary to any kind of extremists," an official said.