Post-raid pique?

The New York Times (NYT) has published a story that says our ISI has arrested five alleged informers of the CIA who facilitated the raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. Amongst them says the NYT, was an army major who is accused of recording the licence plates of cars visiting the al Qaeda leader’s compound. The army, however, categorically denies any major was amongst those arrested. They say some 30-40 people were arrested in connection with the raid, some of whom have since been released and the others are still under interrogation. A senior security official ducked the question whether those arrested were CIA informers, diplomatically using the umbrella of an ongoing investigation that did not allow any answer at this point.Outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta is said to have raised the arrests with military and intelligence officials on his recent visit to Pakistan, the NYT reported. Ambassador Hussain Haqqani put his finger on the renegotiated terms of engagement between the CIA and the ISI that are a work in progress. The Obama administration tried to put the best face on what appear to be tough negotiations after the Abbottabad raid by calling relations with Pakistan “complicated” but extremely important. Outgoing defence secretary Robert Gates dismissed the arrests as a “harsh reality”, reflecting the truth of our world that “most governments lie to each other”, sometimes arrest people and sometimes spy on each other. State Department spokesman Mark Toner also adopted a soft tone by pointing to the intense engagement with Pakistan since the May 2 raid, adding, “We have strong relations with our Pakistani counterparts, we work through issues when they arise.”

Diplomatic and strategic considerations may be imposing restraint on the statements both sides make about each other, but it is an inescapable fact that the terms of military and intelligence engagement between Pakistan and the US have yet to get to the stage of pressing the reset button. The military, and ISI in particular, have been stung by the embarrassment and humiliation of the May 2 debacle. In their pique, they may have decided to go after the CIA informers/facilitators of the raid. The new and aggressive tone our military establishment has adopted since that fiasco so close to the Kakul Military Academy reflects an aggressive stand against US unilateralism and the unauthorised expansion of the CIA’s footprint in Pakistan. At the same time, it must be conceded that the military and ISI opted for the lesser charge of incompetence to save further embarrassment surrounding the more serious allegation of complicity in harbouring bin Laden. The raid not only angered the military establishment because of the blatant lack of trust it reflected, but also because of the strategic vulnerability it exposed.

The military has taken some retaliatory steps in the aftermath of the embarrassment. It has pared, if not totally sent back, the American trainers working with the Frontier Corps on anti-terrorism techniques. On the question of distrust, another recent event has only deepened suspicions about the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. Apparently the CIA tipped off Pakistan about the existence of two bomb-making factories in FATA. Within 24 hours of the tip-off, the militants were detected by US surveillance satellites fleeing the sites. Panetta raised this too on his recent visit, but it is not known what, if any, purchase he got.

By striking a fiercely nationalist pose, the military and intelligence establishment may be trying to reverse the pressure of adverse opinion about their readiness and competence that has overtaken public perception of late, reflected in the barrage of criticism unleashed against these institutions in the media. That barrage of criticism invited the attention of the recent Corps Commanders conference, whose subsequent statement issued what could only be read between the lines as a blunt warning to the critics to cease and desist. Even were the critics to comply, that would not change the reality that the divergence in the goals of the US and Pakistan in Afghanistan and elsewhere is now fully on display, with uncertainty clouding the future of this often fraught relationship. – Dailytimes