ISLAMABAD: As Pakistani and US officials sat down to explore the way forward in bilateral ties fraught with deep mistrust but struggled to find common ground, the CIA shared intelligence suggesting Al Qaeda planned to carry out major attacks inside Pakistan.
The information was based on documents seized by US Navy SEALs during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad last year.
Some of the details of the intelligence shared with Dawn revealed that before being killed in the May 2 raid, Bin Laden, along with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who took over as Al Qaeda chief in June 2011, and other senior leaders of the terror outfit had planned to mount indiscriminate attacks on Pakistani soil.
There were conflicting reports about the shared intelligence. One participant of the meeting said CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell had presented a dossier to Pakistani officials while another claimed that it was just a tip about what Al Qaeda had been planning to do in Pakistan and lacked related details -- the bits that could help put the jigsaw together.
It wasn’t clear whether the CIA intended to identify Osama bin Laden’s support network within Pakistan with the help of shared intelligence or wanted to rebuild the much-needed mutual trust for moving forward.
Intelligence cooperation, or what can be more specifically described as CIA-ISI relations, formed the bedrock of Pakistan-US ties till last year’s events derailed the bilateral relationship.
The CIA has been sharing some of the information gleaned from the intel treasure trove recovered from Osama’s compound after the raid with friendly spy services like MI-5, MI-6 and others, but never shared details for fear of it being compromised. It is, however, for the first time that CIA shared such information with Pakistan.
Speaking at a joint media conference with Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani after their talks at the Foreign Office, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman stressed on counter-terrorism cooperation. “We have jointly, an effort to make, to counter terrorism and other extremist groups. One of the issues we talked about this morning was how to deal with this challenge together,” he said.
The shared intelligence was probably the highlight of Thursday’s interaction, which in effect kick-started the negotiations on resetting ties.
Both sides stuck to their positions with almost no progress, except for an agreement that neither side could afford a divorce.
“Let me tell you that nobody came here this afternoon to meet the foreign minister and the foreign secretary expecting that we will solve these problems in one meeting,” Mr Grossman said.
The two sides set up smaller groups comprising experts on counter-terrorism cooperation, reopening of Nato supply lines and CSF reimbursements to formulate recommendations for steps that could be taken jointly for getting back to normal ties.
The US special envoy listed some of the priority areas for the US.
“We want to work to reopen the ground lines of communication. We want to discuss several outstanding claims for the coalition support funds. We are ready to get to work on our shared counter-terrorism objectives. We want, as the foreign minister and the foreign secretary suggested, to increase market access and economic opportunity and as the foreign secretary just said we want to work together to find ways to cooperate to make Afghanistan a more secure, stable and peaceful neighbour,” Mr Grossman said.
It was obvious that demand for cessation of drone attacks and apology for the Nov 26 Salala attack were proving to be the sticking points in the dialogue.
Washington sometime back had indicated to Pakistani interlocutors that the American civil and military leadership was ready to tender apology for the incident. But that now looks difficult.
“There is a clear reluctance on offering apology for the Salala incident,” a Pakistani participant of the talks said. Similarly, there was no progress with regard to drones.
Foreign Secretary Jilani said: “Well, with respect to drones, the policy of the government is very very clear. We consider drones as illegal, counter-productive and accordingly unacceptable.”
He, however, indicated that Pakistan was ready for a negotiated solution of the drone campaign.
“As we have re-engaged at various levels we would also like to find a solution which is in accordance with the recommendations and spirit of the parliament as well as ensures respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he maintained.
Mr Jilani said the previous arrangement for Nato supply lines had been scrapped and a new mechanism would be negotiated. He underscored that Pakistan wanted to remain engaged with the US.
“We wish to continue positive engagement with the US on political, economic and security fronts. We have reaffirmed our commitment that Pakistan would continue to strive for peace, security, stability and development in Afghanistan and the region and internationally which remains our shared objective,” he said.