WASHINGTON, Feb 2: The United States’ top intelligence official on Thursday praised Pakistan as a key ally but also as a major source of extremism currently threatening the region and the United States.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said President Pervez Musharraf’s government had captured several leaders of the Al Qaeda terror group, calling Pakistan the place where “many of our most important interests intersect.”

Gen Musharraf, however, who is both president and army chief, “has made only limited progress moving his country toward democracy,” Mr Negroponte testified in a relatively rare public session before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Pakistan’s 2007 elections, he said, “will be a key benchmark to determine whether the country is continuing to make progress in its democratic transition.” Militant groups in Pakistan, he said, threatened regional, US and global interests. Negroponte gave an example of a Californian network of extremists that maintained connections with Pakistani militants to recruit US citizens for training in Pakistan. —AP

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