CIA Director Leon Panetta’s brief visit to Pakistan follows a sharp downturn in relations between Pakistan and the US since the Raymond Davis saga and the US raid which killed Osama bin Laden. Panetta only met Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI head Ahmed Shuja Pasha during his sudden, unscheduled trip, and it appears he swiftly left after being unable to secure any improvements in the troubled relationship. Panetta, unlike during past visits, did not pay even courtesy calls to the president and prime minister. He seems to have realised and is making it clear to all observers that the military is the true power in the country. And it is the military that is taking an increasingly hard line against the US, demanding the removal of all American military forces and CIA agents. Reports indicate that the military has also refused offers of joint operations by the two countries to kill ‘high-value’ militants.
As troubling as the fracture in the relationship is, what is even more disturbing is further evidence of possible Pakistani duplicity in the war against militancy. A few weeks ago, the CIA provided Pakistan with satellite imagery of two bomb-making facilities in North Waziristan that were supplying weaponry to the Afghan Taliban. When the Pakistan Army invaded the facility, it turned out that all the militants had mysteriously vanished. The CIA believes that the militants were tipped off by elements in the military. Although the proof may be circumstantial, it does deepen the mistrust between the two sides and will lead to greater pressure on Pakistan to launch a massive operation in North Waziristan.
Before relations with the US, who it should not be forgotten provide us the aid that keeps us financially afloat, deteriorate any further, the army has to decide whose side it’s on. It can no longer make distinctions between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban, fighting the latter while ignoring the presence of the former. In protesting our violating sovereignty, we never seem to notice that the Afghan Taliban are also operating with impunity in a foreign country. It is their disregard for our sovereignty that we need to fight.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2011.