YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Pakistan, U.S. attempt to rebuild trust during meetings in Washington

Ties have frayed since a CIA contractor was accused of murder. Pakistani intelligence officials want the U.S. agency to keep them in the loop and reduce drone strikes.

April 13, 2011|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • CIA contractor Raymond Davis, center, in Lahore in January. His killing of two Pakistanis angered many people in that country.
CIA contractor Raymond Davis, center, in Lahore in January. His killing… (Hamza Ahmed / Associated…)

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — After months of reduced cooperation between Pakistani and American intelligence agencies in the battle against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, top officials of the two nations have been meeting in Washington this week to overcome a deep sense of mistrust intensified in January by a murder case involving a CIA contractor.

Since the contractor's arrest, Pakistan has asked the U.S. to scale back the number of CIA operatives based in the country and to provide detailed information on the assignments of the agency's remaining personnel, said a senior Pakistani intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. drone missile strikes in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, which the Pakistani government publicly condemns but tacitly approves, have also declined sharply since contractor Raymond Davis' arrest. Only 19 strikes have been carried out this year, most of them in the North Waziristan tribal region, where the Afghan Taliban wing known as the Haqqani network is based. In 2010, the U.S. conducted 117 strikes, more than doubling the total from the previous year.

Pakistan now wants the U.S. to further reduce the frequency of drone strikes, a request motivated largely by a March 17 attack in North Waziristan that Pakistani officials say killed more than 40 civilians, many of them tribal elders meeting about a dispute over a local mine. The U.S. maintains that the strike targeted only militants.

Pakistan's demands were raised this week in Washington during meetings between CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and the chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "The Pakistanis have asked for more visibility into some things, and that request is being talked about, along with a host of other topics, including ways to further expand the partnership.

"The bottom line is that joint cooperation is essential to the security of the two nations," the official said. "The stakes are too high."

Relations between the CIA and Inter-Services Intelligence have long been tenuous because of past ISI support of Afghan militants. But in recent years, they have set aside differences to cooperate in many high-profile successes, including the 2003 capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., and the 2010 arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second in command to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Experts also say Pakistan cooperates in the drone campaign by providing intelligence to help establish targets, though Pakistani intelligence officials deny playing any such role.

But the cooperative efforts came to a near-standstill after Davis was arrested Jan. 27 in the eastern city of Lahore on charges of murdering two men he said were trying to rob him.

Davis, an American citizen, was freed March 16 after the U.S. government reached an agreement with the victims' families to pay $2.3 million in compensation. ISI officials say they learned of Davis' affiliation with the CIA after his arrest, a revelation that deeply embarrassed and angered them.

"We are saying, if you want to work with us, then work with us and don't work behind our backs," said the senior Pakistani intelligence official. "If there are people working behind our backs, then we need visibility into that."

To resurrect cooperation between the intelligence agencies, both sides must rebuild trust.

"It's a question of feeling betrayed by the CIA and the American military command," said Javed Hussain, a security analyst and former Pakistani special forces commander. "If it continues like this … the lack of cooperation between the two intelligence agencies and two military commands could spell disaster for the war against insurgents in Afghanistan and in Pakistan."

The row between the CIA and ISI reflects the continuing erosion of ties between the U.S. and Pakistan, a relationship seen by both sides as vital but also troubled by mutual suspicion and increasingly divergent interests.

Pakistan has repeatedly ignored pleas from the U.S. to launch a military operation on Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network fighters who use North Waziristan as a base from which to carry out attacks against U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

Officials in Islamabad, meanwhile, believe the U.S. favors its nuclear archrival to the east, India, and is increasingly concerned that Washington's strategy in Afghanistan will fail and ultimately destabilize Pakistan.

Pakistan also harbors deep suspicions about Davis' activities while he was based here, with many believing that he was involved in spying on the country's nuclear arsenal facilities.

"Everyone here believes that the ultimate objective of the U.S. is to neutralize Pakistan's nuclear capability," Hussain said. "They don't want an Islamic state to have the bomb, least of all, Iran and Pakistan, two unstable regimes."

Los Angeles Times Articles