Spy vs. spy

June 16, 2011


THE ongoing saga of deteriorating relations between the CIA and the Pakistan Army and ISI has been developing one new twist after another, and is now increa-singly being played out in the public eye. The latest development — western media reports that Pakistan has arrested local CIA informants, allegedly including an army officer, who passed on information about Osama bin Laden's hideout to the American spy agency — has raised far more questions than it has answered. Disapproval of the arrests by the American media and some government officials is not particularly fair: any country has the right to interrogate citizens informing a foreign intelligence agency, even if it is about Osama bin Laden. But for Pakistan, this is yet another moment for self-examination. The CIA created a network of local informants who succeeding in putting together enough clues to make a case for raiding the compound of the house where Bin Laden was staying. That the Americans were able to carry out this process from thousands of miles away begs the question of why Pakistan's own intelligence apparatus was unable to do so in its own backyard, using its own people. And while informants are being detained, what progress has been made in arresting those who enabled Bin Laden to survive inside Pakistan?

Additionally, while ISPR has denied in a press statement that an army officer is among those arrested, a statement given to the media said the detentions were part of a “cleansing process”, a phrase that suggests that members of the armed forces might also be under investigation. Like other aspects of this story, though, the truth remains far from clear. But if the American version is to be believed, it raises concerns about morale and loyalty in the Pakistan Army: why would an officer not feel the need to aid his own institution in tracking down one of the world's most wanted terrorists?

The last few days also point to how frequently both sides are using the media to publicly shame each other into cooperation. The story about the informants' arrest followed another in the American media about Pakistani security officials having tipped off militants at bomb-making facilities after receiving information from the CIA. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of anti-American conspiracy theories circulating in the Pakistani media. Private discussions are clearly failing, and the media is perhaps being used as a last resort. But it is no substitute for honest dialogue and a sincere desire to work towards the common goal of making both countries safer, and its continued use will simply increase animosity between the two sides.