Drone Attacks: DG ISI’s Firm Stand
During his three-day visit to the United States, the DG of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam met CIA Director David Petraeus and senior American officials including lawmakers, especially emphasising upon them to halt drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal region.
It was his first official visit and of any Pakistani high-ranking officer to the US after the May 2 raid when without informing ISI, while setting aside intelligence cooperation and Pakistan’s sovereignty, US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. Afterwards, Pak-US ties almost reached point of no return when the US-led NATO’s deliberate air attack killed 25 soldiers on Pakistan Army border posts on November 26, last year.
Meanwhile, Islamabad reopened the NATO supply into Afghanistan on July 4, 2012 by accepting the US apology in relation to the strike on Slalala check posts.
However, Pak-US spymasters met on August 2 amid various conflicting reports of the US media and think tanks.
As regards the meeting of ISI and CIA chiefs, Wall Street Journal reported on August 4, “signifying some progress towards building mutual trust between US and Pakistan, the two spy chiefs agreed on joint counter terrorism campaigns and operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan to contain militancy afflicting lives on both sides of the restive Afghan border. But, no breakthrough was reported in the two countries’ talks on stopping the drone attacks in Pakistan.”
The Journal explained that the proposed campaigns would target the Haqqani militant group which has mounted several attacks on US soldiers as well as Taliban fighters who have launched attacks on Pakistan. The campaigns would help stamp out major security threats facing each country—what the US says are sanctuaries for the Haqqani network in Pakistan, and what Pakistan says are sanctuaries for the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan.
Regrettably, despite the positive shift in Pak-US ties, some of US media analysts and think tanks are still blaming Pakistan for backing Haqqani militants which target US-led NATO soldiers and installations in Afghanistan. In wake of the DG ISI trip to America, a report of the Combating Terrorism Centre of the US Military Academy in West Point allegedly pointed out, “Dreaded Haqqani Network receives financial and logistic support from the Pakistani military.” At the same time, the report disclosed that the “relationship between the Haqqani network and the Pakistani spy agency ISI is not that smooth as being seen from the outside world and very often there is friction between the two.”
While quoting American officials without their names, some US newspapers stated on August 4 that US and Pakistani spy chiefs exchanged grievances in their first official meeting, but it was unclear, if the two uneasy allies made any progress about the Haqqani militants or on US drone strikes on Pakistan.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, and without going into further detail, an official of the US State Department revealed that both the chiefs of spy agencies held “substantive, professional and productive” talks, on ways to work together to fight terrorism, in a new sign of easing tensions between the two countries and to work together to counter the terrorist presence in the region that threatens both US and Pakistani national security.
It is notable that prior to his visit, Interior Minister Rehman Malik made it clear on July 30 that DG ISI would call for an end to US drone strikes in its tribal areas and push for a sharing of technology and intelligence during a visit to Washington.
In fact, meeting between the DG ISI Lt. Gen. Zaheeul Islam and his counterpart David Petraeus failed as the former remained strict on the issue of predators’ strikes on Pakistan’s soil.
Some reliable sources indicated that the DG of Pakistan’s superior intelligence agency clearly told the CIA Director to evolve some framework to end drones attacks on Pak tribal areas—the thorniest aspect of Pak-US relations. He raised the question that unmanned aerial attacks are violation of the international law, challenging a relationship that can actually accomplish a lot more on the ground than we are doing today in eliminating terrorism.
During talks with David Petraeus, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam emphatically pointed out that strikes by the unmanned aircraft are proving counterproductive. He told him that if these air attacks continued, the US policy of liberalism and democracy could badly fail, giving a greater incentive to the fundamentalist and extremist elements in Pakistan. Such a faulty policy is likely to result in more recruitment of militants in FATA, and will bring more subversive acts in Pakistan, ultimately damaging US interests in the region at this hour when US needs Islamabad’s help for stability in Afghanistan, while NATO troops are going to start withdrawal of their troops from that war-torn country in 2013.
While talking about public backlash inside the country against the drone attacks, ISI Chief said that American raids are a violation of country’s sovereignty and are increasing anti-US sentiment among the people.
In order to avoid the implications of the spy planes, DG ISI suggested to his CIA counterpart that Pakistan needs this precision strike capability to avoid collateral damage and its political fallout. The best way is that the US locates the target and informs us, and we would ourselves destroy it.
Reliable sources suggest that during his negotiations with CIA Director David Petraeus, ISI Chief Lt-Gen. Zaheerul Islam took up the issue of repeated cross-border incursions of militants in Pakistan from the Afghanistan side, asking him to adopt some mechanism to stop this cross-border insurgency in his country.
Regarding Haqqani network, DG ISI denied the blame game of America, while saying to CIA Chief that Haqqani network was an Afghan entity and Pakistan had nothing to do with it. He also asked him as to why ISAF/NATO troops did not take any action against the safe-havens of Haqqani militants in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nooristan provinces, while Pakistan provided accurate information in this respect.
It is mentionable that on September 17, last year, in a rare interview by telephone from an undisclosed location, leader of the Haqqani militant network, Sirajuddin Haqqani revealed that the group has become so confident after battlefield gains in Afghanistan that “it no longer has sanctuaries in Pakistan, and instead, felt secure inside Afghanistan.”
Nevertheless, during the negotiations with his American counterpart, DG ISI discussed new framework for intelligence sharing and counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries. But he flatly refused Pak-US joint counter terrorism operations in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan as misperceived by the US media reports.
Notably, besides other irritants between both the countries, predator’s strikes on FATA could create a greater impediment in settling other issues between Pakistan and the US.
After the much awaited meeting between the spy masters of Pakistan and the US has held, while it is of greater significance at this crucial hour when both the countries are trying to repair their damaged ties by further minimising distrust between them.
In case, despite talks of ISI Chief with CIA Director, strikes by the unmanned planes continued on FATA, these could take the Pak-US relations to the point of no return.
Nonetheless, DG ISI Lt-Gen. Zaheerul Islam who visited the US with full approval of the civil and military leadership, took a firm stand by clearly telling the CIA Director David Petraeus that there would be no compromise on drone attacks.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power