x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Curb your spooks, Pakistan tells CIA

Analysts say the latest demand is a reflection of the already frayed relations following the arrest of an American over a fatal shooting.

Activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami party shout slogans beside a burning effigy of the CIA contractor Raymond Davis during a protest in Peshawar. Anti-Americanism has risen steadily in Pakistan even though it gets significant military and financial aid from the United States.
Activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami party shout slogans beside a burning effigy of the CIA contractor Raymond Davis during a protest in Peshawar. Anti-Americanism has risen steadily in Pakistan even though it gets significant military and financial aid from the United States.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistani officials have demanded that the United States significantly reduce the number of Central Intelligence Agency and Special Operations personnel in the country and halt drone strikes along the Afghanistan border.

The Pakistani demand comes just days after the Obama administration issued a harsh assessment of the Pakistani military's ability to fight al Qa'eda and Taliban in a report to the US Congress.

Officials and analysts here said that the latest Pakistani demand was a reflection of the already frayed relationship between the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani spy organisation, and the CIA.

The relationship suffered a major blow after the arrest of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who was arrested in Lahore in January after he killed two men in what he described as a botched roadside robbery.

Since then, in protest, counterterrorism operations with the CIA were put on hold by the ISI.

In an effort to iron out differences, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, met the CIA director Leon Panetta at the CIA headquarters on Monday in a short visit to the United States, according to an ISI official, who said it was too early to provide details of the meeting. But a CIA spokesman said "the CIA-ISI relationship remains on solid footing" .

The arrest of Mr Davis threw light on an extensive presence of US spy operatives involved in covert operations in Pakistan and infuriated the ISI, which is angry that the CIA tried to establish a parallel intelligence network inside the country.

"The Americans have to work with us, not behind our backs," said another Pakistani intelligence official. "The co-operation has to be at a mutual level but there can be no dictation", the official said.

Pakistani officials have been quoted in local media as saying that more than a 100 CIA contractors left the country soon after Mr Davis's arrest while about 300 others were in the process of leaving.

Pakistan and the US have had a tumultuous history. Anti-Americanism has risen steadily in Pakistan although it gets significant military and financial aid from the United States. Co-operation with the US in the fight against militancy is viewed warily by many Pakistanis.

American officials have long expressed frustration with ineffective Pakistani efforts to root out militancy from tribal regions and dismantle militant networks in urban areas. The ability of the militants to cross the border into Afghanistan remains a major point of contention.

Pakistani military and intelligence seem to have calculated that their co-operation is essential for the Americans to succeed in Afghanistan and see little risk in playing hardball .

"Without us Americans cannot take a step in Afghanistan," said the intelligence official.

As well as demanding an end to clandestine CIA activities, Pakistan is also calling for a halt to the drone strikes, which are deeply unpopular and resented in the country as a violation of sovereignty and a proof of American ham-handedness.

Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, the Pakistani army chief, issued an unusually strong denouncement of drone attacks on March 17 after one of them targeted a gathering of tribal elders in North Waziristan and killed as many as 40 people. American officials claimed that those killed were militants but Pakistanis maintained that it was a peaceful gathering.

Gen Kayani repeated the demand in a meeting last week with Gen James N Mattis, the US Central Command Commander in Rawalpindi.

ISI officials say they stopped co-operating with the Americans over drone strikes and the CIA was choosing targets on its own.

The complaints against American policies are being heard throughout the country.

The "Raymond Davis case has finally pushed Pakistan and its policy makers into a position where they had no option but to shed off diplomatic courtesies and fall in line with the sentiment of the people", said Imtiaz Ahmed, a retired brigadier who has served in the ISI.

"The time has come that Americans have to stop the drone attacks inside Pakistan. If they don't do it, the Pak-US relations are bound to come under insurmountable strain," said Mr Ahmed, who has also served as the head of the country's civilian Intelligence Bureau. "Secondly, the CIA will have to pull back its operatives. If they don't do it themselves, ISI has the ability to push them back."

"America will have to genuinely and sincerely engage with Pakistan. It will have to shed off its duplicity. It has no other choice. Pakistan has always overextended its co-operation."

 

smasood@thenational.ae