A clash between spy agencies is boosting the ISI—but is doing Pakistan no favours
Raymond Davis: the popular verdict’s in
CHALK up one point to Pakistan’s military-intelligence service, the ISI, and none to America’s. In a test of strength over the fate of an American agent, awaiting trial for murder, it is clear who is emerging the stronger. The agent is Raymond Davis, whom America now admits worked in some way for the CIA. He shot and killed two apparent robbers on a motorbike, in a busy street in Lahore in late January. An American driver, perhaps working for the CIA, then accidentally killed a third man while rushing to the scene. A little later the despairing wife of one of the victims committed suicide.
That miserable run of events has left ordinary Pakistanis furious. Mr Davis is such a figure of hate as he languishes in a Lahore jail that even his guards are kept unarmed for fear they might kill him. Anti-Americanism, always high, is soaring.
Had Pakistan wished, Mr Davis might have been quietly whisked away. The Americans, from Barack Obama down, say he has diplomatic immunity. That seems wrong—Mr Davis’s name was not put on a diplomatic list until after he had fired his shots. But Pakistani officials might once have gone along with the fiction. The civilian government probably wanted to do so. Asif Zardari, the president, had been hoping to go to Washington this month and craves a visit to Pakistan by Mr Obama. He needs American and IMF cash to prop up a failing economy.
Yet Mr Zardari was too weak to let Mr Davis go. Political rivals grabbed a tempting stick with which to bash his derided government. In Punjab an alliance between his party and the opposition has crumbled, a sign that parties may be preparing for an early national election.
More important, the ISI made sure that Mr Davis could not be released. It briefed journalists on American lies about his immunity, helping stir public anger. The press made lurid claims that the American had been trying to plant evidence that terrorists have nuclear-weapons material, as an excuse for outsiders somehow to seize Pakistan’s treasured nuclear arsenal.
For the ISI, the Davis incident is a godsend. It is furious with the way American agents work independently, tracking al-Qaeda, Taliban and other militants who have slipped into Lahore and Karachi to flee drone attacks on the mountainous border with Afghanistan. This may have been the work Mr Davis did—snooping around Madrasas, trying to contact anyone connected to extremists.
The Americans say they act alone because the ISI fails to co-operate. For example, after the CIA found Abdul Ghani Baradar, an Afghan Taliban leader, in Karachi in February last year, the Pakistanis put him under house arrest but are said to have limited American access to him. More intriguing—though stoutly denied by the ISI—was a Washington Post claim that the ISI brought Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, to Karachi on January 7th for an emergency heart operation.
As relations soured, Pakistani intelligence, which already feels humiliated by America’s widespread drone attacks against the Afghani Taliban on Pakistan territory, tried blocking the arrival of American agents by vetoing visa requests. The Americans (and Mr. Zardari) responded, last year, by arranging for Pakistan’s embassy in Washington to hand out visas independently. Dozens of American contractors reportedly flocked into Pakistan.
Furious, the ISI targeted the CIA, leaking the name of the station chief to the Pakistani press in December and so forcing him out. American intelligence in turn briefed friendly journalists that the ISI was responsible for the leak. Most strikingly, the ISI is now rumored to be behind efforts to arrest more Americans. Aaron DeHaven, with connections to the security industry, was detained in Peshawar in late February for overstaying his visa. Leon Panetta, the CIA head, calls the fraught ties with Pakistan “very complicated”.
Bruce Riedel, author of a new book on America and Pakistan, concludes that “the stakes are enormous and they are all going to hinge on the fate of one man”, Mr Davis. A few options for reconciliation are open, but none looks appealing to the Americans. Most obvious, as the ISI sees it, is for America to back down and let the ISI oversee the snooping on Islamic extremists, in effect ceding a veto on whom to target.
Strong differences exist, for example in North Waziristan over the militant Haqqani network, considered a friendly group by the Pakistanis but a terrorist threat by the Americans. Similarly, attitudes differ towards Lashkar-e-Taiba, reckoned by Pakistanis to be a useful tool for threatening India, but an international terrorist group by Americans, especially since an attack on Mumbai in November 2008.
Next the ISI wants the American government to discourage a private court case in New York against past and present chiefs of Pakistani intelligence. The suit, brought by American victims of the Mumbai attack, claims the ISI directly helped the terrorists, but perhaps America could say that Pakistani spy leaders enjoy sovereign immunity
Last, and perhaps least appealing of all to the Americans, Pakistan’s spies want more say on efforts to end the war in Afghanistan. Whether any of these, or other, concessions will be made for the sake of a difficult relationship is unclear. But an ISI officer this week happily suggested that “sanity is prevailing”.
Source: The Economist