SOME days before CIA chief John Brennan’s confirmation hearings, the Open Society Justice Initiative released a report saying that 54 countries around the world aided the Central Intelligence Agency in providing secret detention facilities, investigative assistance and safe houses.
These venues, scattered all over the world, were used to detain and often torture at least 136 people picked up as “the CIA conspired with other governments to build a highly classified system of secret detention and extraordinary rendition of terror suspects”. The report’s chapter on Pakistan shows that permission was granted by Pakistani authorities to allow the CIA to use Pakistani airspace and airports. The revelations are not surprising. In addition to various statements made by Pakistani officials as well as a UN report released in 2012, it had long been assumed that Pakistan provided cooperation in apprehending Al Qaeda suspects.
The details of the hunt for Khalid Sheikh Mohammad that emerged last year showed one such ostensibly collaborative effort. Going back to 2002 and the early years of the ‘war on terror’, Pakistani intelligence along with the CIA raided a house in Gulshan-i-Iqbal after an informant told them that his boss often had Arab-speaking guests.
When they apprehended the owner, he gave them the address of another house in Tariq Road where passports allegedly belonging to Osama bin Laden’s family and two children, apparently the sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, were found. The last raid in that episode of collaboration took place after a night-long vigil outside a shady commercial building in Defence where a firefight and siege yielded none other than Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, a coordinator of the 9/11 attacks.
Those of course were the first years of the ‘war on terror’ during the tenure of Gen Pervez Musharraf, days before drone attacks and Nato blockages and incursions into Abbottabad.
Many would say that the current stalemate between the United States and Pakistan points to less cooperation between the two countries where the task of apprehending terrorists is concerned.
Adherents of this logic could, for example, point to the closing of the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan in December 2011, and the fact that Pakistan denounced the US drone strikes taking place within Pakistani territory.
At Pakistan’s end, the truth about the extent of cooperation is mired in speculation. One could point to the confused aftermath of the Osama Bin Laden raid and say that intensive cooperation would have suggested a programmed aftermath, joint statements and less mistrust.
One could even look at the changing nature of US drone strikes in Pakistan in recent months; note their change in pattern from “targeted” strikes in response to specific intelligence; to “signature” strikes that simply rely on patterns.
None of this however, can dislodge the conclusion that while the details of past cooperation may now be emerging, the clauses of current or future cooperation remain and will most likely continue to remain murky.
The change in tone has been on the American side. If the tone of the overtures of old between the US and Pakistan was signified by American dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s refusal to acknowledge the relationship or proffer enough public displays of affection, the confirmation of John Brennan as the new head of the CIA marks an end to that dynamic.
In the post-9/11 world, America’s chief interest in Pakistan is to enable cooperation in the ‘war on terror’, the arrest of terror suspects and the killing of variously defined militants on lists approved by President Obama.
With the sleuths of the CIA, rather than elected officials or even State Department bureaucrats managing the relationship with Pakistan, the disjointed nature of the ties between one side wishing to keep cooperation secret and another worrying about political accountability is further emphasised.
The acceptance of this new recipe for fighting terror could be seen in the questions that the US senators did not pose when the CIA chief-to-be was sitting before them. For instance, no one asked about how the CIA determines its targets, if there are any rules for selecting them, how confirmations are made (without consulting anyone on the ground in Pakistan) of whether a strike actually killed the militant thought to have been targeted.
The dodge was deliberate; and the result of the tacit and new American conclusion; that it is best after all to hedge behind the dictates of national security, and let the spies of the CIA, adept at secret deals and surreptitious slyness, handle the tricky and dirty business of catching terrorists.
Where Pakistan is concerned the result is clear. In relegating the war to its spy agency the CIA, the United States seems to have recognised that no Pakistani politician in the present can likely withstand, and in the future will likely be able to take on, the tremendous and devastating political cost of a public alliance with the United States.
With the ‘war on terror’ now the domain of the CIA, Pakistan and its intelligence apparatus can consider the cosy possibility of being secret allies, untroubled and untrammeled by the tasks of explaining to opposed publics the ethics of agreeing to give up one suspect and not another or explaining why torture was necessary and secret rendition required.
Blissfully unseen, the relationship can grow and bloom for now and forever, free of the meddlesome stresses of democratic transparency, ethical constraints or legal procedure. For Pakistan, a country dominated by secrets, a new secret relationship may be just the thing for an uncertain future.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.