LAHORE: At least 30 suspected covert American operatives have suspended their activities in Pakistan and 12 have already left the country, according to sources familiar with the matter.
In the aftermath of the shootings in Lahore on January 27 by suspected CIA operative Raymond Davis, intelligence agencies in Pakistan began scrutinising records of the Americans living in Pakistan and discovered several discrepancies, causing many suspected American operatives to maintain a low profile and others to leave the country altogether.
The foreign ministry states that there are 851 Americans with diplomatic immunity currently in Pakistan, of whom 297 are not working in a diplomatic capacity. However, sources at the interior ministry put the number of non-diplomats at 414. The majority of these ‘special Americans’ (as the ministry refers to them) are concentrated in Islamabad, with some also residing in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. Interior ministry records show that most of the “special Americans” live in upscale neighbourhoods in Islamabad and Lahore, with smaller presences in Karachi and Peshawar.
Most of the ‘special Americans’ are suspected of being operatives of US intelligence agencies who are on covert missions in Pakistan, reporting to the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), according to sources familiar with the situation.
Counter-intelligence agencies in Pakistan have long suspected a covert US espionage presence in Pakistan. The first internal investigation into suspicious activities by American citizens in the country was conducted in March 2009, which revealed some significant gaps in the implementation of laws concerning foreign citizens.
Under the Foreigners Act of 1946, foreign citizens are not allowed to live in cantonment areas anywhere in the country. Yet the majority of the suspected American intelligence operatives in Lahore are reportedly living in the Officers’/Generals’ Colony on Sarwar Road and Cavalry Ground in the Lahore Cantonment.
Several senior retired army officers – ranging in rank from brigadier to lieutenant general – have rented out their homes to American citizens at rates astronomically higher than the rents of similar homes in the area. The presence of these Americans came to light when several serving and retired Army officers who lived in the neighbourhood reported suspicious activity, including unauthorised foreigners living in cantonment areas.
Foreign citizens in Pakistan have to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) from security agencies before they can rent a residence. This process is meant to ensure that they are not living in prohibited areas. But somehow American citizens were able to get NOCs issued to live in cantonment areas in violation of the law.
Sources say that the intelligence agencies’ reports state that many of the Americans living in these residences are assumed to be US Special Forces – including members of the covert Delta Force of the United States Army – and therefore are considered armed and dangerous.
The report further claims that the late US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, had visited one of the covert American teams in Lahore, at a residence on Sarwar Road owned by a retired army general.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2011.