An unfriendly act

Pakistan is in the midst of yet another controversy. Jonathan Banks, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief in Pakistan, had to flee the country last week after reportedly receiving serious threats to his life. An application against the CIA chief was submitted by a resident of North Waziristan, Karim Khan, to the Secretariat Police Station in Islamabad whereby Mr Khan has alleged that his son and brother were killed in a drone strike and since Mr Banks oversees the drone attacks, he should be held responsible for their deaths. It is now being reported that because of the police’s hesitation to take action against Mr Banks, he was able to leave the country. What remains a mystery though is who could have leaked the name of the CIA chief to the drone victims’ family. According to the New York Times, “The American officials said they strongly suspected that operatives of Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI], had a hand in revealing the CIA officer’s identity — possibly in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in Brooklyn last month implicating the ISI chief [Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha] in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008.”

Blowing the cover of the CIA chief and his subsequent departure from Pakistan is not a small matter. The Americans will not take it kindly and this would be seen as an unfriendly act by the US’s frontline ally in the war against terror if the ISI did out Mr Banks’ name. Even though the ISI has vehemently denied this allegation by calling it “a slur” that “can create differences between the two organisations [the ISI and CIA]”, it is not unnatural that the finger of suspicion is pointing towards Pakistan’s top spy agency. Mr Banks was reportedly here on a business visa, meaning thereby that he was operating undercover. To find out his identity is no mean task and could not have been done without the help of our intelligence agencies, who are the only ones to have access to such sensitive information. If indeed the ISI exposed the CIA chief in retaliation for the lawsuit filed against the ISI chief in the US, it could have grave repercussions for our country.

Complaints against the ISI have been lodged in Pakistani courts over the years yet that has never bothered the spy agency before. It is unclear what prompted the ISI to indulge in this seemingly tit-for-tat move against the Americans. The US is not very happy with Pakistan’s double game vis-à-vis the Taliban in the first place; outing the CIA chief under such circumstances is akin to provocation of a serious nature. There is already immense pressure on Pakistan to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan to take out the Taliban safe havens. Drone attacks have also increased in recent months and the message from the US is loud and clear: if you are not willing to take action against the Taliban, we will.After the CIA chief debacle, the US might be forced to take some even more drastic action. Given our military establishment’s track record, the possibility of the ISI’s role in this incident cannot be overlooked. If this is true, did the ISI not realise the implications of angering the Americans to an extent that could lead to a stand-off between the superpower and Pakistan? If the ISI is indeed responsible for blowing Mr Banks’ cover, we could be in for a lot of trouble in coming days – Dailytimes