Pakistan has arrested five al Qaeda suspects at the CIA’s request and allowed US intelligence officers to question them, amid fresh signs of improvement in ties between Islamabad and Washington.
On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Pakistan has also stopped demanding the CIA suspend the covert drone strikes that have damaged al Qaeda’s militant ranks in the tribal areas, officials on both sides say — though the Pakistanis say they have simply put this on the backburner for now.
“It had reached its nadir, but now it’s going in the other direction,” said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. “They are doing things to cooperate and be helpful,” Clapper said.
For a time, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency refused to carry out any joint operations with American intelligence officers, nor would they allow the Americans access to question militant detainees. Visas as well were hard to come by for US officials of any stripe. The breakdown in relations took on a tit-for-tat quality, with Pakistan expelling most of the US military trainers in the country, and the US cutting off several hundred million dollars in military aid.
There are still bumps, including over recent high-level US criticism of Pakistan’s ties to militant groups.
Pakistan considered halting some of the increased cooperation after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen accused Pakistan’s spy shop of complicity with the militant Haqqani network’s attack on the U.S. embassy in neighboring Afghanistan. Mullen levied that charge, the most serious U.S. allegation against Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks, within a few days of leaving his post last month.
Yet against the backdrop of public claim and counterclaim, intelligence officials on both sides say they have labored to restore communication. Clapper and three top CIA officials have held meetings with Pakistan’s intelligence chief Lt General Shuja Pasha both in the US and Islamabad since the bin Laden raid.
The improved cooperation is a byproduct of mutual need, rather than shared trust at this point, officials concede. Pakistan does not want to risk losing USdiplomatic and financial support, and the US. needs Pakistani cooperation to continue counterterrorist operations against al Qaeda in one of its key safe havens. The US military also needs Pakistani consent to use the country’s roads to resupply US forces in Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2011.
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