ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha is reported to have asked the US to stop its drone strikes in Pakistan in a meeting between CIA deputy director Michael Morrell and senior ISI officials held in Islamabad on Saturday.
Pasha, who faced tremendous criticism after the May 2 Abbottabad raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is reported to have taken a firm stance with the US on the drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
“We will be forced to respond if you do not come up with a strategy that stops the drone strikes,” Pasha is reported to have told Morrell.
The ISI chief also described the recent incursion by Nato helicopters into Pakistani airspace as a ‘shock’ for defence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan.
Later on Saturday, Morrell met with operational leaders of the ISI, as well as members of its recently set-up counter-terrorism division. Both sides are reported to have discussed a way forward that would involve the US stopping its drone strikes and expanding joint US-Pakistan operations against militants.
Relations between the CIA and the ISI were strained even before the May 2 unilateral US raid that killed Bin Laden, particularly since January. Earlier, a CIA operative shot and killed two Pakistani men in broad daylight in Lahore. The ISI was publicly embarrassed by the incident and has been pressuring the US to reveal the extent of CIA activities inside Pakistan.
Those demands were repeated on Saturday, with Pakistani officials asking the US to provide a list of names of people who are currently employed by the CIA or other US intelligence agencies. Controversially, the ISI has asked the CIA to name Pakistanis employed by US intelligence services as well.
In order to induce US cooperation, the ISI has threatened to restrict access for all US citizens in Pakistan, including asking existing US contractors to leave the country. In recent weeks, reports have emerged of US military and intelligence personnel, as well as contractors, leaving Pakistan. The ISI made it clear that none of those leaving would be allowed to return without explicit approval by Pakistani intelligence.
The government has also decided to introduce a system to store biometric information about US contractors visiting Pakistan in order to prevent unauthorised persons from entering the country.
Suspicions between the CIA and the ISI run both ways. The CIA deputy director asked about the status of the US helicopter wreckage from the May 2 raid that the Pakistani government has agreed to return to the US. Morrell also asked about the progress in determining who was involved in supporting and protecting Bin Laden in Abbottabad.
For their part, ISI officials demanded access to the information US forces obtained from Bin Laden’s compound as well as photographs and videos the US may have of the operation itself.
Despite the disagreements and mutual suspicion, sources familiar with the discussions say that progress was made on the negotiations and was made possible by cooler heads prevailing on both sides, who realised that preserving the CIA-ISI relationship was in the interest of both sides.
The two sides may sign a formal agreement over the particulars of their cooperation in the war against terrorism. Previous cooperation has relied on several informal, and sometimes unacknowledged, arrangements.
The CIA also discussed the safety of Nato supply convoys that travel through Pakistan to troops in Afghanistan.
Relations between the US and Pakistan seem to be on the mend after the back-to-back visits to Islamabad by US Senator John Kerry and the US Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan Mark Grossman.
The military statements on those visits, as well as the one by Morrell, have been brief.
No let-up in terrorism fight, FO says
Pakistan on Saturday renewed its commitment to the war against terrorism but steered clear of the “immediate steps” sought by the US to underscore Islamabad’s cooperation in the aftermath of the Abbottabad operation.
“As far as Pakistan is concerned, we will continue our fight against terrorism in accordance with our national interests and priorities. Obviously any steps taken in this regard would be in that context,” said Foreign Office spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua on Saturday.
A joint statement following US Senator John Kerry’s meetings with the civil and military leadership had stated, “Pakistan agreed to take several immediate steps to underscore its seriousness in renewing the full collaborative efforts with the United States”.
“Pakistan is fighting terrorism for its own sake. In undertaking this fight against terrorism, Pakistan will have to take its national interests and priorities into account. This is being recognised in the joint statement issued on Senator Kerry’s visit,” the spokeswoman added.
When asked to comment on US special envoy Marc Grossman’s remarks that there was no formal agreement between Pakistan and the US and that no guarantees have been issued on another Abbottabad-like incident, she said, “We are in the process of re-engaging with the US and the purpose is to get the terms of our engagement right.”
There are issues being taken up with the US while taking into account the discussions in Parliament and its unanimous resolution, she added.
She declined to comment on a question regarding Kerry’s statement on Pakistan’s four official teams were probing Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad before he was killed in the US raid, saying that Senator Kerry can best respond to that question.
“The question has been adequately addressed by the parliament and the leadership,” she added. Janjua further stated that the independent commission to investigate the Abbottabad fiasco will be set up in light of the unanimous resolution adopted by Parliament.
To a question about the uninterrupted drone attacks in the tribal areas of the country, she stated that Pakistan has categorically conveyed to the US that the attacks were “definitely not acceptable”. “We need to move away from unilateral actions and towards cooperation, which serves the interest of countering terrorism,” she added.
The spokeswoman further said that a trilateral meeting of senior officials of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US will take place early next week in Kabul to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir will lead the Pakistani delegation, she added.
Referring to Pakistan’s engagements with different countries, she said that the “multi-track engagement is designed to safeguard our national interests and deepen consultations with key partners, all neighbours, major powers and global actors.” (with additional reporting from qamar zaman)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2011.