The CIA has stopped sharing intelligence information on prospective drone targets with Pakistan since 2008, said official sources.—Reuters photo
PESHAWAR: The country's military leadership has called upon the United Stated to significantly cut down the number of Central Intelligence operatives and Special Operation forces working in Pakistan and put on hold the CIA-operated drone strikes, Pakistani officials said.
“The Americans have asked them to cut down their footprints,” one senior official said. The demands to the Americans were made in the aftermath of the spat over the arrest of Raymond Davis, which had caused embarrassment as well as concern in Islamabad over what another official described as CIA's attempt at “increasing American footprint” in Pakistan without the consent and knowledge of the ISI.
Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, was arrested in Lahore on Jan 27 after killing two men, causing an uproar in Washington which demanded his immediate release, claiming he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
Davis was released on March 16 after heirs of the two dead men accepted blood money under the Qisas and Diyat law â€“ a decision that also came under sharp public criticism.
The official said the military leadership had sought a 25 per cent to 40 per cent reduction in the strength of special operation forces, including those engaged in training the paramilitary Frontier Corps and in logistics operations.
According to Pakistani officials, Raymond Davis was scouting and gathering intelligence on Lashkar-i-Taiba (Let) as the Americans believe it has cells in and outside Pakistan.
The exact number of personnel working for US Special Operation forces is not known, but the US had said last year that Pakistan had allowed a maximum of 120 special operation operatives.
“It is still the subject of discussion between the two sides,” an official said. “The military leadership wants the number of all Americans falling under these categories to be below hundred,” the official added.
He said the Americans were reluctant to accept the demand on the ground that this would impact the Kerry Lugar Bill in financial terms. “This is something we are not buying.”
He said the Army and the ISI felt offended that the CIA was running operations behind their back and without their knowledge.
“The have been bypassing us,” the official bemoaned.
“The leadership has now asked them to share with it the list of all those working and operating in Pakistan,” another senior official said.
He said the CIA contractors operating in the country without the knowledge and consent of the Pakistani intelligence agencies was a clear breach of understanding and agreement.
“In normal circumstances, the names of people like Raymond Davis are passed on through normal diplomatic channels and their diplomatic credentials and status are verified through our own channels.
“But in this case, and in hundreds of other similar cases, the whole procedure was set aside and we were bypassed,” the official said.
According to media reports over the past month, the Pakistan embassy in Washington had issued 450 visas to Americans visiting Pakistan on different assignments after getting clearance from the interior ministry, but that their details were never shared with the other state security apparatus.
The issue became the subject of a bitter row between Islamabad and Washington following the passage of the Kerry Lugar Bill as the Obama administration urged Pakistan to issue hundreds of visas to its officials to help implement aid projects.
The immediate impact of the arrest of Raymond Davis, the official observed, was that 130 CIA contractors had to immediately leave Pakistan while about three hundred others on various assignments were in the process of leaving.
“Pakistan wants to know if the American requirements for more personnel match their actual needs on the ground,' the official said.
Another major irritant in the current Pak-US clandestine relationship, the official stated, was the expansion of drone attacks in the tribal areas.
The issue became hot, he said, when an unmanned drone attacked a tribal jirga in North Waziristan last month, killing several civilians.
The US apologised over civilian casualties following an unusually strong reaction by the Army Chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. This was followed by a statement by the Foreign Office.,
In private, the official revealed, the Americans did try to justify the strike, saying the drone had targeted a gathering of militants.
Part of the problem, the official said, was that the CIA had stopped sharing intelligence information on prospective drone targets with Pakistan since 2008.
Islamabad wanted the intelligence to be shared with it before any strike to eliminate any possibility of collateral damage. “We want the intelligence to be carefully verified,” the official said.
Not only the Americans stopped sharing intelligence on drone strikes, the official said, but the scope of the drone operation was expanded beyond the narrow “box” of North Waziristan to South Waziristan, Kurram, Bajaur, Khyber and F.R Bannu region.
The official said the military leadership wanted the drone strikes to stop.
While drones continue to hover over North Waziristan, there has been no strike since the March 17 attack on a Madakhel tribal jirga in Datakhel.
The ISI chief, Gen Ahmad Suja Pasha, has gone to Washington to meet CIA Director Leon Panetta. He is expected to take up Islamabad's concerns during the trip.
The visit, a security analyst said, appeared aimed at removing irritants between the two spy agencies, overcome the trust deficit and other issues that have strained relations between the two allies. “We have to tell them that either they trust us or they don't,” he remarked.