Pakistan’s top spy chief is purportedly going to give the following message to his American counterpart in Washington: yes to formalised anti-terror cooperation, no to private CIA network.
Chief of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha was due to meet acting CIA Director Michael Morell on Wednesday.
The decision to send Pasha to Washington was reportedly taken at the corps commanders’ meeting on Wednesday, a day after US central command head Gen James Mattis met with top military officials, including the Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Sources add that the new US head for international forces in Afghanistan Lt-Gen John Allen is arriving in Islamabad on Thursday.
The flurry of meetings between top military and intelligence officials from Pakistan and the US are seen as fresh efforts to salvage their ‘shaky’ war on terror alliance after a series of setbacks in recent months.
Hectic efforts are being undertaken both in Islamabad and Washington to rescue their relations from the brink of collapse.
No to ‘private network’
The back-to-back meetings of military and intelligence officials follow the US administration’s decision earlier this week to withhold $800 million in military aid to punish Pakistan’s security establishment for expelling several dozen alleged American spies operating in the country.
Top Pakistani military commanders on Wednesday said they would use their own resources to carry forward the war on terror in what appeared to be a ‘mild but defiant’ snub to Washington’s move.
According to senior intelligence officials here, Pasha would tell the American spy chief that the ISI has no objection to anti-terror cooperation between the two agencies but would never tolerate a private ‘network’ the CIA is secretly maintaining in Pakistan.
“We are willing to cooperate with CIA in war on terror … but there is no room for a private network. That is our position and we are going to stick to that,” said an official, giving a hint of what would be discussed during Pasha’s interaction with the Americans.
The Pakistani military has been in the process of busting what is described as an underground human network the US established over the past decade.
These local individuals associated with the CIA are believed to have played a critical role in a secret manhunt that led up to the unilateral raid in which bin Laden was killed.
The US administration has been pushing Pakistani spy agencies to release at least several hundred people who were part of the CIA network and the issue is likely to feature during Pasha’s meetings as well.
But officials here said they believed the decision to dismantle these private clusters was final and there won’t be any second thoughts.
Salvaging US support
The decision to send Pasha to the US was apparently taken at the corps commanders’ meeting on Wednesday because the military still considers American financial support vital for their war on terror campaign.
Experts believe Pakistani military’s policy of still continuing the war on terror cooperation with the US emanates from fears that Washington might keep them out of the loop on any endgame in Afghanistan.
American troops start their partial withdrawal from Afghanistan in a month’s time.
There were already signs of Pak-US cooperation getting back on track when Gen Kayani visited the embattled Mohmand tribal region on Wednesday where more than a thousand terrorists surrendered to political authorities.
Local operational commanders also informed the army chief that seven factories of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the border area were destroyed by troops after being tipped of by US intelligence.
Releasing the doctor
Washington is pressing Islamabad to release a doctor – said to have helped in tracking Bin Laden using DNA samples – in the wake of bitter diplomatic relations, the Guardian reported.
Dr Shakir Afirdi is being held by ISI after it discovered that he was recruited by the CIA for carrying out a fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad, trying to track down al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
According to the report published earlier in the Guardian, Afridi, a senior government employee, was initially taken into custody in Peshawar but may have been transferred to Islamabad.
Pakistani and US officials say that American authorities are trying to rescue the Pakistani doctor, his wife and children, and take them to the US.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2011.