It seems safe to assume that the meeting between CIA chief Leon Panetta and his counterpart in Pakistan’s ISI didn’t go terribly well. Yesterday, the CIA called the talks “productive” and declared the relationship between the two intelligence agencies “on solid footing.” Today, news reports have Pakistan demanding an end to drone attacks against Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan:
Pakistan has privately demanded the Central Intelligence Agency suspend drone strikes against militants on its territory, one of the U.S.’s most effective weapons against al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, officials said. …
The U.S. strategy in the war in Afghanistan hinges on going after militants taking refuge in Pakistan. The breakdown in intelligence cooperation has cast a pall over U.S.-Pakistani relations, with some officials in both countries saying intelligence ties are at their lowest point since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks spurred the alliance.
Beyond the Afghan battlefield, officials believe that without a robust counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan, al Qaeda and other groups can operate with far greater impunity when planning attacks on the U.S. and Europe. The vast majority of attacks against the West in the last decade originated in Pakistan.
The Pakistanis want the CIA to seriously reduce their personnel in Pakistan, no doubt prompted by a killing earlier this year involving a CIA operative, but more related to a more basic fear:
Pressure from Pakistani intelligence for a cut in the number of U.S. Special Forces trainers working in sensitive regions is due to fears they are also spying, according to Pakistani sources with knowledge of the request, illustrating the extent to which growing mutual mistrust is hampering security co-operation.
The request was conveyed when Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan’s powerful Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), visited his counterpart Leon Panetta at CIA headquarters on Monday.
A U.S. military official in Islamabad confirmed that a reduction in the number of Special Forces troops involved in training Pakistanis in counter-insurgency was being discussed.
“Throughout the history of the training mission there have been discussions about the force structure and location of the training,” the official said. “So this should not be perceived as a done deal. … But it’s something that we’re talking about.”
Whatever other issues may be had with President Obama’s foreign policy, he has mainly met his commitment to put more energy into attacking AQ and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Obama stepped up the drone attacks begun under George W. Bush while Pervez Musharraf ruled as a dictator in Pakistan, and they have been effective at killing major players in the terrorist networks. Unfortunately, as will always be the case, they also produce collateral deaths, which create a massive political problem for the now-democratic Pakistani government.
On top of this, we still have the ISI’s (formerly?) close relationship with the Taliban to consider. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have publicly stated that the ISI is working against the terrorists, and that may be true of at least AQ, which comprises mainly uninvited foreigners that destabilize Pakistani authority in their remote regions. It seems much less true of the Taliban, which are primarily Pashtun tribal leaders native to the Af-Pak region. Have the Islamists in the ISI been squeezed out at all? Or are they, as appears much more likely, playing on both sides?
Regardless, Obama has a tough problem to face. We cannot allow AQ to operate at will in the frontier regions, which means we have to find ways to target them. Pakistan has turned a blind eye for years to drone attacks, but if that changes, we will find that much more difficult to accomplish. Any slack in this fight will mean an immediate expansion of AQ operations. Obama and Panetta need to find a way to tell the ISI no and make it stick without tipping Pakistan entirely to the Islamists.