CIA director Leon Panetta. — Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD: Relations between the Inter-Services Intelli- gence (ISI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been in the eye of the storm since media reports revealed that Raymond Davis was working for the CIA.

However, the two agencies hit the headlines on Saturday as news leaked out of ISI having contacted CIA for details about its operatives in Pakistan.

A military official who did not want to be named told that the ball was now in CIA's court if it wanted to take the relationship back to the level it was prior to the Davis's episode.

The official, however, refused to comment or deny that there had been any direct contact between CIA chief Leon Panetta and the ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha. The Director General of ISPR, Athar Abbas, also refused to deny or confirm the news.

Media reports during the day had claimed that Mr Panetta and Gen Pasha had spoken to each other by phone. The ISI chief had made the same request to the CIA during the conversation. According to western media reports, the two had also spoken to each other on Wednesday.

The military official added that the arrest of another American national from Peshawar, who is also suspected of being a CIA operative, indicated that many more CIA men might be operating inside the country, without the knowledge of Pakistan.

“We are doing a lot for them and we must not be treated the way we are being treated,” he remarked, pointing out that there were 80,000 US troops in Afghanistan that were dependent on Pakistan.

That the military may be using the Davis affair as an opportunity to check US officials and CIA agents operating inside Pakistan has been mentioned by a number of political analysts earlier.

A number of commentators admit, on the condition of anonymity, that the military has not been too happy with the liberal visa policy the current political government has implemented vis-à-vis the Americans.

They also conjecture that a quid pro quo for the release of Davis, if and when it happens, may be more military supervision of the American nationals entering the country.

This is lent more credence by a story published in the New York Times on Saturday.

Reporting that the ISI had sought an accounting by CIA of all its contractors working in Pakistan, the paper said Pakistani spy agency estimated that there were “scores” of more such contractors “working behind our backs”, in the words of an official who requested anonymity.

Equality sought

However, the paper said that Pakistan had softened its stand because the official conceded the American and Pakistani intelligence agencies needed to continue cooperation, and that Pakistan was prepared to put the episode behind if the CIA stopped treating its Pakistani counterparts as inferior.

“Treat us as allies, not as satellites,” said the official to the NYT, adding that “respect, equality and trust are needed”.

According to the NYT, the CIA spokesman also expressed similar sentiments. This assessment is also shared by analysts in Pakistan. For instance, Zahid Hussain, a defence analyst, told Dawn the distrust between the two agencies had widened over the Davis affair to the extent that relationship between the two was at its worst since 9/11. However, he added, there was no danger of a complete rupture.

The paper also said that although both sides agreed to try to “arrest the slide”, in the words of a former COAS, Jehangir Karamat, at the minimum “the ISI wants an accounting of all the contractors who work for the CIA in roles that have not been defined to Pakistan and a general rewriting of the rules of engagement by the CIA in Pakistan”.

The ISI official also told the NYT that the demand for the CIA to acknowledge the number of contractors in Pakistan was driven by the suspicion that the American spy service had slipped many such secret operatives into Pakistan over the past six months.

The increase occurred after a directive last July by the civilian government to its Washington embassy to expedite visas without supervision from the ISI or the ministry of interior, the paper quoted the ISI official as having said.

The behaviour of people like Davis is deeply embarrassing to the ISI because it makes the agency “look like fools” in the eyes of the anti-American Pakistani public, the official is reported to have said, adding that the Davis case made it hard to explain to Pakistanis why the ISI was cooperating with Washington.

It is difficult to acquire an independent assessment of the number of CIA officials and operatives in the country. Former Chief of the Army Staff Gen (retd) Aslam Beg, in a recent interview, had claimed that Raymond Davis was heading a team of 3,000 operatives. Dawn

However, a military official told that they were estimated to be in hundreds, and not thousands.