Foreign Policy Blogs

Bring it down a notch CIA

The Islamabad station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency hastily departed from Pakistan last week after his cover was blown due to a suspected deliberate leak by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. This act is the latest evidence of the tense relationship between the two spy agencies.

It is believed that his cover was blown in retaliation for naming ISI chief Ahamad Shuja Pasha in a US lawsuit by families of 26/11 Mumbai attack victims. The suit asserts that Pasha and other ISI officers were ‘purposefully engaged in the direct provision of material support or resources’ to the planners of the Mumbai attacks.

A similar legal complaint was filed in Pakistan on behalf of Kareem Khan, a resident of North Waziristan who said that his son and brother were killed in a drone strike. Khan was seeking $500 million in compensation, and accusing CIA’s top officer in Pakistan of running a clandestine spying operation out of the United States Embassy.

This locking of horns should have been tackled sensibly. Instead, the confrontation ended up costing CIA an experienced officer. Interestingly, not many Americans known the name of the former CIA station chief, whereas whole of Pakistan is familiar of his name, especially the people in North Waziristan. Yes, North Waziristan, which the US believes is the new haven of militant extremists.

This is not the first time that the two agencies have engaged in a power struggle. On September 30th this year, a US fighter helicopter crossed into Pakistan airspace and fired on a position occupied by Pakistani soldiers. As a result of this attack, three soldiers were killed and the rest severely injured.

Hurting an ally came with a huge price for the US when Pakistan halted the flow of NATO supplies into Afghanistan through the Torkham for at least 10 days. It’s not that the trucks were just parked and were driven away after the ban was lifted. The Pakistani agency made sure to set an example and did not guard the trucks. As a result, the trucks were attacked by terrorists.

These are just two major incidents that happened this year on Pakistan’s home ground, where the CIA, NATO, the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department cannot act without the ISI’s blessing. Not helping ease relations were notorious incidents such as the threat by an obscure American pastor to burn the Quran, protests against a proposed Islamic Center in New York City and a Pakistani official delegation cutting its trip to United States short because of protocol issues.

To make matters worse, none of the internecine US-Pakistan clashes were reported properly in the American press. The coverage was either one-sided or full of accusations. The media did cover the NATO trucks blockage, but offered neither context nor an apology for the cause of the attack. It did cover the removal of the CIA spy but did not suggest establishing person-to-person contact rather than strictly military-to-military relations.

US agencies, whether on or off the ground, have to realize that Pakistan has sacrificed a lot more than it deserves. The Americans at the same time need to know that United States’ presence in Afghanistan has radicalized Pakistanis and turned many of them not only against the West. One count says the Pakistan army has lost more than 3,200 soldiers in recent fighting against Taliban forces along their border with Afghanistan. This does not include the civilians killed by drone attacks or by the suicide bombers.

This little rift between the two agencies is an open secret, and has been going on for years now. Every now and then, the CIA tries to prove that it has more resources and pushes ISI to ‘act as advised’. It needs to bring its ego down a notch, just for the sake of the war which both countries have to win.