The US and Pakistan are attempting to repair their strained ties by forging a new joint intelligence team to go after top terrorism suspects, Associated Press quoted US and Pakistani officials as saying.
The move comes after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Pakistan with the US list of most-wanted terrorism targets, including some groups the Pakistanis have been reluctant to attack, US and Pakistani officials said on Wednesday.
The move is among a host of confidence-building measures meant to restore trust blown on both sides after US forces tracked down and killed al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden during a secret raid in Pakistan last month.
But it also amounts to a new test of loyalty for both sides. The Pakistanis say the US has failed to share its best intelligence, instead running numerous unilateral spying operations on its soil.
US officials say they need to see the Pakistanis target militants they’ve long sheltered, including the Haqqani network.
The investigative team will be made up mainly of intelligence officers from both nations, according to two US and one Pakistani official.
It would draw in part on any intelligence emerging from the CIA’s analysis of computer and written files gathered by the Navy SEALs who raided bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, as well as Pakistani intelligence gleaned from interrogations of those who frequented or lived near the Bin Laden compound, the officials said.
The formation of the team marks a return to the counterterrorism cooperation that has led to major takedowns of al Qaeda militants, like the joint arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003.
The high-value target team is expected to use any intelligence found at the bin Laden compound in the hunt, although a month after the raid analysts have found nothing “actionable,” a term describing intelligence that leads to a strike or operation against a new al Qaeda target, two US officials say.
Top five targets
The joint intelligence team will go after five top targets, including al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda operations chief Atiya Abdel Rahman, Taliban leader Mullah Omar, leader of the Haqqani tribe Siraj Haqqani and leader of Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, all of whom US intelligence officials believe are hiding in Pakistan, one US official said.
Pakistani officials say the US has never provided them accurate intelligence as to the Haqqani leadership’s location.
Pakistani officials also argue that as the Haqqani network has been careful never to attack the Pakistani government, there is no reason to attack them.
Intelligence-sharing operations between the US and Pakistan were already strained before the Bin Laden raid, particularly by the arrest and detention in January of CIA contractor Raymond Davis.
Two of the five “intelligence fusion centers” where the US shares satellite, drone and other intelligence with the Pakistanis were mothballed last fall, long before either the Davis or Bin Laden controversies, the Pakistani official and another US official say.
It was part of the fallout of the public embarrassment of the WikiLeaks cables disclosures, which revealed a closer US-Pakistani military relationship than publicly acknowledged by Pakistan.
Two other fusion centers, plus smaller cooperative intelligence-sharing facilities, remain operational, both sides say, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2011.