It was bound to happen. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had been embarrassed far too often by the Americans. At least that’s the way the ISI saw it. American drones had killed many Taliban fighters in North Waziristan, but also many civilians. This was after the Pakistan Army — at ISI’s insistence — had promised the Haqqani network headquartered in that region that there would be no further attacks. And this wasn’t the first time the U.S. had put Pakistan in a difficult position.
To make matters worse the CIA had begun to run unilateral operations against Pakistan Islamist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba that had had a principal role in the Mumbai, India attack. This was an operational step too far for ISI and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who as Chief of Army Staff now heads the entire Pakistan Army. Considered pro-American he previously commanded ISI and was deemed very close to the CIA in the past. American actions perceived as undercutting Pakistan sovereignty ultimately therefore became a public insult to Kayani.
The shooting and killing of two apparent robbers by the CIA-contracted, former Special Forces soldier Raymond Davis, and his subsequent arrest, forced to the surface the long simmering disagreements that had grown between the Pakistan and American intelligence agencies. The General Directorate of the ISI could have quickly intervened but chose not to do so. A weak explanation was offered along the lines that the killings were a local police and judicial matter in Lahore. Anyhow, the Pakistani government said, Davis’s diplomatic immunity was questionable.
Certain factors must be recognized in order to gain some perspective on this seemingly complex but actually simple operational issue. The ISI is not merely a military intelligence agency. ISI overall is the single most powerful political instrument in Pakistan. It is indeed controlled by the military, but it operates in all phases of internal and external security, civilian and military. This fact is not particularly secret, it’s just not talked about very much — and for good reason.
Pakistan’s strategic command structure is based primarily on defense against possible aggression from India. For that reason it has been held that it was essential that internal and external intelligence always should be coordinated in a manner that provides an interlocking capability to combat and counteract anything that would tend to support efforts to weaken Pakistan’s defense against India’s perceived aim to control and even conquer its neighbor.
CIA unilateral covert activities in Pakistan in areas of mutual interest would be directly counter to the usual host nation agreements. Nonetheless, ISI, as an experienced intelligence organization, would long have known there were covert American activities in progress even though they might not have known the exact nature of the operations. That the Americans after the Mumbai attack had insisted on launching their own activities relative to Pakistani radical groups was not only an affront to ISI but in direct contravention of existing operational accords.
The American argument for covert U.S. intelligence against Pakistani nationals was dramatically justified when clear evidence was uncovered of Pakistani Islamist operations in process to kill key members of the local CIA station. The matter was serious and credible enough for an emergency project to be activated to provide ops officers with armed team protection. Abruptly the station chief, the principal target, was pulled out of the country.
Raymond Davis’s situation now has become part of the behind-the-scenes conflict between Pakistan and the United States in general and ISI and CIA specifically. The billions of dollars that the U.S. Government spends in and makes available to Pakistan would appear to be adequate leverage to allow Washington to exert its will whenever it was really necessary. Unfortunately that’s not true.
To begin with, China’s relationship with ISI — and thus Pakistan — clearly has grown in recent years. The Chinese always had a special friendship reaching back to the days when the USSR was India’s principal backer and China supported a competitive balance with Pakistan. On top of this enhanced level of Sino-Pakistani diplomatic amity is the contemporary effort of the United States to press forward with improved relations with India. Raymond Davis has become a pawn in the complicated game of American/South Asia relations.
Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA, has been in contact with the current head of ISI, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Both men reportedly “niced” each other in their well-practiced manners, but Davis as of this writing remains in jail. General Kayani now effectively is the true power broker in Pakistan with scores of nuclear weapons in his armory and the ability to create a military coup whenever he desires.
Kayani is said to want a substantial alteration of U.S.-Pakistan relations. The price is not yet clear, but complete cessation of American unilateral intelligence operations within Pakistan against Pakistanis, no matter the stripe, undoubtedly is part of it. Until the final figure is agreed upon and put into effect, Raymond Davis and other contested issues, such as joint anti-Taliban operations, will remain hostage — and so will the ISAF supply line into Afghanistan.
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