According to news outlets, “Pakistan has demanded that the U.S. steeply reduce the number of Central Intelligence Agency operatives and Special Operations forces working in Pakistan, and that it put on hold C.I.A. drone strikes aimed at militants in northwest Pakistan.”
Or as Jeremy Scahill (@jeremyscahill) tweeted, “You mean Pakistan tells the U.S. it must sharply reduce the number of times its operatives get caught.”
The demand is another sign of the unfolding fallout after the Raymond Davis debacle, and, as the NY Times noted, it signals “the near collapse of cooperation between the two testy allies.” Pakistan’s intelligence officials have asked about 335 American personnel – C.I.A. officers and contractors and Special Operations forces – to leave the country, about a 25 to 40 percent reduction in Pakistan’s U.S. presence.
The reductions were reportedly personally demanded by COAS Gen. Kayani, and were articulated during Pakistan’s intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Pasha‘s Monday meetings with CIA director Leon Panetta. According to New York Magazine, “The incident couldn’t have come at a worse time: The U.S. is frustrated at Pakistan’s seeming ineptness at tackling Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the region. And Pakistan is distrustful of Washington, believing American officials are only interested in stripping the country of its nuclear arsenal.” Just last week, the White House’s assessment of the U.S. Afghanistan/Pakistan policy was released, painting a grim picture about Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts. According to Dawn, “The report alleged that Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, continues to be the operational base of Al Qaeda and its affiliates threatening global peace.”
Pakistan has dismissed the report’s claims, but at least to the outside world, the strain between the two nations is clear. In fact, CNN noted that these aforementioned “strained” relations dominated Monday’s “frank” discussion between Panetta and Pasha, though officials later assured reporters that the meetings had been productive, and that the relationship between the two services “remains on solid footing.”
It seems that the U.S. is at least trying to placate some of Pakistan’s demands, with U.S. Ambassador Munter stating that Washington is now reconsidering its drone program, a comment he made not during his speech, but during the Q&A Monday. While Munter did not note a time line in the review of the drone program, he did say – pretty significantly – “We have habits and tendencies that don’t work for us and get in the way [of its relationship with Pakistan].”
The Ambassador also called for a renewal of ties, noting, “We’ve had some difficult days in the recent past. But I’m here today to speak of opportunities in the future, not of problems of the past. Those problems have been acute in recent months, symbolized by the case of Raymond Davis.”
For those of you who think that the U.S. would actually halt the drone strikes in Pakistan – think again. As I’ve noted before, the drones are the best worst option to target militants that threaten U.S. interests. So a vague placation about a covert tactic that Pakistan has been very aware of should be taken with a grain of salt.
With intelligence relations, I always wonder how much of what is being said publicly truly reflects what is happening behind closed doors. Because let’s be honest – as much as the U.S. isn’t “happy” with Pakistan’s ability to battle Al Qaeda, Pakistan is, justifiably, pretty pissed off too. Even if Islamabad/GHQ have been complicit in the drone strike program and had knowledge of American personnel in the country, they don’t like being undermined in the eyes of their own population. Incidents like the Raymond Davis case and the March 17th drone strike that targeted a tribal jirga and killed large numbers of civilians and tribal fighters loyal to the Pakistani government in North Waziristan, are examples of that.
And for a report from the White House to claim that Pakistan is still not “doing enough,” despite the sustained deployment of 147,000 Pakistani troops and despite the numbers of Pakistani policemen, soldiers, and civilians that have lost their lives, comes across as callous, a far cry from “mutual respect and mutual understanding.”
After those debacles, our intelligence agency wants to be wooed. Some of the statements we’re seeing in the media or what is really happening behind closed doors could be examples of that. But will we see any changes in U.S. policy vis-a-vis Pakistan? We’ll see about that.