SPY agencies by definition would prefer to work in the dark, away from public scrutiny. So it is perhaps a sign of the level of frustration and suspicion between the ISI and the CIA that the two agencies have taken to public slanging against one another, through suitable media intermediaries of course. Amid the welter of accusations and recriminations, it is difficult to say with any certainty who is telling the truth and who isn’t. But zooming out from the minutiae seemingly preoccupying both sides at the moment, two observations can be made._One, the veil of secrecy surrounding Pak-American ties when it comes to counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency cooperation needs to be reconsidered. Next to nothing is known about the level of cooperation Pakistan extends to the US, and vice versa, and in what areas. Hundreds of drone-fired missiles have rained down in Fata, particularly the Wazirstan agencies, but the CIA-led programme is still virtually ‘officially denied’. The convenient arrangement allows the Pakistan government and the security establishment to allow a covert war on its soil while letting politics and public sentiment undermine that very war. The public is not even told about the resources, including bases, which are allegedly made available to the Americans. Even on more straightforward matters, little is clear. Pakistan is a transport route for a great deal of supplies to Isaf/ American forces, but what the agreements permit and what they prohibit is not declared. The only time Pakistanis are reminded of their state’s assistance to the foreign forces in Afghanistan is when tankers and other supply trucks are attacked in Pakistan. The veil of secrecy thrown over Pak-US relations by Gen Musharraf needs to be pulled back. It has periodically damaged relations between the US and Pakistan for a decade and over the past couple of years also appears to be impacting relations between the civilian government and the security establishment. Two, if Pakistan’s role in perpetuating the duality of overt suspicion and covert cooperation is one half of the problem, the other half is the Americans approach. There is a divergence of interests between the two countries. Instead of working patiently to build trust and bridge divides, the US often resorts to cage rattling and self-defeating arrogant tactics. Strategically, the uncertainty surrounding the bottom lines and ‘end state’ in Afghanistan that the US desires also makes it difficult to work towards a common agenda which keeps Pakistan’s legitimate self-interests in mind. Instead of threatening and undermining each other’s self-interests, the US and Pakistan should work towards finding common ground.
February 27, 2011