Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pakistan is Not a Reliable Ally

Pakistan has proved to be a very dangerous country for Americans, especially CIA officers as well as their own ISI (Military Intelligence) officers. It has become necessary for intelligence officers to have their own security (particularly when they are conducting meetings with terrorist sources) and for security officers to protect American officials. Due to the heavy security demands the U.S. government has been forced to rely on contract security officers like Raymond Davis, who is being held in a Pakistani jail for shooting two armed men that tried to rob him. The Davis case has heightened tensions but it is not the only cause of the current tensions between the Americans and Pakistanis. There are far deeper issues causing the rift.

It has been reported that a proposed exchange with the Pakistani government of U.S. citizen Raymond Davis for a Pakistani citizen, Aafia Siddiqui, was not being turned down. Here are the details of the proposed exchange. Davis is a contract security officer working for the CIA who was arrested by Pakistani police on Jan. 27 following an incident in which he shot two men who reportedly pointed a pistol at him in an apparent robbery attempt. Siddiqui was arrested by the Afghan National Police in Afghanistan in 2008 on suspicion of being linked to al Qaeda. During Siddiqui’s interrogation at an Afghan police station, she reportedly grabbed a weapon from one of her interrogators and opened fire on the Americans present. Siddiqui was wounded in the exchange of fire and taken in American custody for treatment. After her recovery, she was brought to the United States and charged with armed assault and the attempted murder of U.S. government employees. Siddiqui was convicted and sentenced to 86 years in prison.

Given the differences in circumstances between these two cases, it is understandable why the U.S. government would not agree to the exchange. Siddique had been arrested by the local authorities and was being questioned, while Davis was accosted on the street by armed men and thought he was being robbed. His case has served to intensify the growing split between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).

Pakistan has been an extremely dangerous place for Americans, especially diplomats and intelligence officers, for many years now. Since September 2001 there have been 13 attacks against U.S. diplomatic missions and motorcades as well as hotels and restaurants frequented by Americans. At least 10 Americans in Pakistan on official business have been killed as a result of these attacks, and many more have been wounded. One example was in March 2008 when four FBI special agents were injured in a bomb attack as they ate at an Italian restaurant in Islamabad.

As dangerous as it has been for Americans, Pakistani intelligence and security agencies have been targeted with far more aggressively. This is due partly because they are seen as cooperating with the United States and also because there are more of them and their facilities are relatively soft targets compared to U.S. diplomatic facilities in Pakistan.

In addition to these high-profile attacks against facilities, scores of military and government officials have been assassinated. Just last month the Pakistani minorities minister was assassinated near his home.

Another problem for the Americans is that they are easily identified in crowds in Pakistan because most are Caucasian. They stick out when they walk down the street in Pakistani cities and villages.

It is well known that the ISI has long had ties to militant groups. The ISI’s fostering of surrogate militants to serve its strategic interests in Kashmir and Afghanistan played a role in the rise of transnational jihadism (aided with U.S. funding). Te ISI would like to retain control of its militant proxies in Afghanistan to ensure that Pakistan does not end up with a hostile regime in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal from the country. Because of this, the ISI has been playing a kind of a double game with the CIA. It has been forthcoming with intelligence pertaining to militants it views as threats to the Pakistani regime while refusing to share information pertaining to groups it hopes to use as levers in Afghanistan (or against India). Of course, the ability of the ISI to control these groups and not get burned by them again is very much a subject of debate, but at least some ISI leaders appear to believe they can keep at least some of their surrogate militants under control.

In Washington some people the ISI knows the location of high-value al Qaeda targets and senior members of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which are responsible for many of the attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This belief that the ISI is holding back intelligence compels the CIA to run unilateral intelligence operations (meaning operations it does not tell the ISI about). Many of these unilateral operations involve the recruitment of Pakistani government officials, including members of the ISI. Naturally, the ISI is not happy with these intelligence operations, and the result is the mistrust and tension we see between the ISI and the CIA.

It is important to remember that in the intelligence world there is no such thing as a friendly intelligence service. While services will cooperate on issues of mutual interest, they will always serve their own national interests first, even when that places them at odds with an intelligence service they are coordinating with.

Such competing national interests are at the heart of the current tension between the US and Pakistan. At present, we are fixated on finding and destroying the last vestiges of al Qaeda and crippling militant groups in Pakistan that are attacking U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Americans can always leave Afghanistan; if anarchy and chaos take hold there, it is not likely have a huge impact on the United States. However, Pakistan knows that after the United States withdraws from Afghanistan it will be stuck with the problem of Afghanistan. It is on Pakistan’s doorstep, and it does not have the luxury of being able to withdraw from the region and the conflict. Pakistan believes that it will be left to deal with the mess created by the United States. It is in Pakistan’s national interest to try to control the shape of Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal, and that means using militant proxies like Pakistan did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

This struggle between America and Pakistan is a conundrum rooted in the conflict between the vital interests of two nations and it will not be solved easily. While the struggle has been brought to the public’s attention by the Davis case, this case is really just a minor symptom of a far deeper conflict.

Live Long and Prosper....

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