CIA-ISI cold war and Davis episode


by Asif Haroon Raja

ISI-CIA cooperated with each other throughout the war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in 1980s. The latter never felt offended on being kept in the backseat concerning planning; coordination, training, equipping and launching of Mujahideen were concerned. The US provided intelligence, funds, arms and fighters from other Muslim countries only. The ISI was eulogised and given due credit for the successful conclusion of the war. Its stature grew so high that it was seen as the most potent and effective spy machine in the region and second to none. After 1990, when the US hastily abandoned Pakistan and consequently Pak-US relations got strained, ISI also came in bad books of the US and ignited CIA-ISI cold war. During the two short tenures of PPP, an effort was made to shorten the long arm of the ISI.

After 9/11, when America in concert with Israel, India, UK, Germany and Afghanistan went about pursuing its agenda it had fixed for Pakistan with the help of intelligence agencies, it found Pak Army and ISI as major bottlenecks in its way to reach up to coveted nukes. CIA took full control of intelligence acquisition and dissemination and kept ISI on the sidelines so as to be able to gain control over selected regions of FATA and Balochistan. Anti-state elements were cultivated to destabilize these regions. Two pronged propaganda war was launched against Pakistan and its premier institutions by India and Afghanistan duly backed by USA and western countries. All terrorist attacks taking place in the two countries were pasted on ISI. It included terrorist attack on Indian parliament in December 2002, Samjhota Express train blast in 2006, suicide attack on Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and several others in India.

CIA started targeting ISI from end 2007 onwards when the latter learnt about double game being played by former and started to recover lost ground. Apart from unleashing vicious vilification campaign, the US tried hard to cut ISI to size by placing it under Ministry of Interior headed by its own man and also getting it purged of anti-US officers under the plea that they were sympathisers of Taliban. Wild allegations were made that the ISI was linked with Afghan Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad. It was accused of playing a double game. When the ISI didn’t budge and continued to shield national interests, RAW, Mosad and CIA jointly engineered Mumbai attacks in November 2008 with the sole aim of netting ISI. Case was gradually built up to get it declared as a rogue outfit.

The US tilted towards India and blackmailed Pakistan. Latter was pressured to accept all demands of India. The US played a key role in getting passed a resolution by UNSC to put Jamat-ud-Dawa and its four leaders on list of terrorists. When no headway could be made, several group attacks were launched against ISI set ups in various cities. In November 2010, the US Federal Court issued summon to DGISI Lt Gen Pasha and senior members of LeT for the alleged involvement in Mumbai carnage.

In response to a complaint lodged by one Kareem Khan from North Waziristan that his son and brother had been killed by a drone on 31 December 2009, when on 16 December Islamabad Police moved to register murder case against CIA station chief in Pakistan Jonathan Banks, who was supervising drone campaign, Jonathan fled to USA. The US media suspected ISI involvement in blowing up CIA cover in retaliation to US court move.

Raymond Davis: Murderer, Blackwater contractor, CIA Chief, Dragon Policy agent.

ISI-CIA relations hit rock bottom once CIA agent Raymond Davis was arrested in Lahore on 27 January after he shot down two motorcyclists in Lahore. His arrest blew the lid off the covert CIA operation in Pakistan. Realising the gravity of the situation, the US applied its crude methods of coercion and also played the diplomatic immunity card to secure Davis’s release without any investigation and trial. Obama, Mullen, Munter and CIA chief Panetta tried both threats and persuasion to get him released but failed. Arrest of another US national Aaron Mark de Haven in Peshawar pretending to be security contractor gave a glimpse of the scale of US spy network in Pakistan. Despite extreme pressure Punjab government and Lahore court stood their ground asserting that process of law will not be allowed to be subverted.

It was dishonest on part of Obama and US officials to lie blatantly that Davis was a diplomat knowing that he was not. Their mantra of full diplomatic immunity was sheer deceitfulness. They resorted to lies since the US has mostly been getting away with their ruses, deceit and falsehood.  None bothered to clarify as to why a diplomat was carrying Glock and Bretta pistols, loads of ammunition, hand grenade and other spy gadgets.

Sudden release of Davis on 16 March came as a rude shock for the people of Pakistan. His release has renewed the waning confidence of spies and under cover agents of CIA to continue with their dirty work. They will however now be a bit more careful never to get caught. CIA would be busy devising schemes how to prevent such a recurrence which had caught the most powerful agency with pants down. Task of ISI to identify foreign spies will now become more tedious since it will be chasing alerted agents.

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Pakistan will never ever get another chance wherein the US was put on the defensive and had no clue how to get Davis released after their salvo of diplomatic immunity misfired. Davis was at the breaking point and sooner than later would have divulged all the nitty- gritty details about CIA-Mosad-RAW network in Pakistan, its linkages with local quislings, NGOs and terrorist groups, and Blackwater racket, and how close the CIA was in stealing or disabling our nukes.

Our rulers have once again kneeled down under pressure and sold national interests too cheaply. For the people it is an irreparable loss for Pakistan and amounts to compromising our national honour and dignity. They feel cheated and let down since they were not taken into confidence when striking a secret deal with USA. For the rulers, it is a win-win situation. They argue that Pak-US relations at state, military and intelligence levels at the brink of break up have sailed past the rough patch; US aid and IMF loan flow would resume; US-Pak-Afghan summit would take place, Pak-US strategic dialogue would restart. In their view, decision taken by Session Court was strictly in conformity with Sharia law; all the heirs of deceased Fahim and Faizan have willingly accepted blood money and forgiven the accused; families of victims have been richly compensated and amount dished out to each one is beyond their wildest expectations.

The government is taking pride in tackling a very complex case smoothly since custody of Davis was like handling a ticking live bomb. Rulers say that all this was made possible because of intimate cooperation and coordination of the Federal government, Punjab government, Army chief, DGISI and law courts in Lahore. This kind of harmony between state organs is a rare phenomenon in ongoing restive environment. However, the ruling regime known for its indecisiveness and for underhand deals to please USA or extract commissions was this time caught between the devil and the deep sea.

On one side was incensed USA twisting its arms and on the other side were overcharged public and hyper media together with cries of the victims’ families who wanted Davis to be hanged. Publication of revealing stories about presence of hundreds of Davis type CIA and Blackwater agents had given rise to fears and had triggered heated debate. Finding itself in a logjam, the leadership maintained an ambivalent posture by neither confirming nor denying whether Davis enjoyed diplomatic immunity. While Gilani desiring to oblige the US reluctantly affirmed that legal mechanism would be allowed to prevail, Government machinery on the quiet kept working on the option of blood money.

Leaving aside sentiments and emotions for a while and opening the window of reason, logic and rationality, one will have to accept that the case was handled deftly. Keeping Davis in an isolated room in secluded Kot Lakhpat Jail for seven weeks in the face of extreme pressure, putting him on ECL, charge-sheeting him on double-murder and possession of illegal arms and ammunition, and not bending to US demand of releasing Davis forthwith on the basis of diplomatic immunity was not easy given the poor track record of our rulers.

Till John Kerry’s visit, the attitude of all American officials was conceited and threatening. Each one indulged in tongue lashing on basis of diplomatic immunity. When no headway could be made, Kerry was dispatched to play a soothing tune of conciliation and bring back Davis. He put up a soft face and dangled carrot as well as stick but seeing the ugly mood of the public he considered it prudent to return back empty handed. He passed on the idea of blood money as taught to him by Hussein Haqqani, which sounded appealing to many.

The US leadership was contemplating punishing Pakistan for causing discomfiture to one of its citizens. The entire top brass of USA as well as CIA frothing at the mouths and fuming with anger had to change their demeanour of haughtiness to conciliation and appeasement. Realising the complexity of legal course, it kept the option of payment of Diyat uppermost. It was ironic that the US had to ultimately seek relief for their man from Islamic law which it reviles from the bottom of its heart. Notwithstanding habitual arrogance of US leaders towards compliant leaders of third world, release of Davis may help in making them more compassionate and understanding towards the Muslim countries.

Gen Kayani expressed his serious concern to senior military leadership of USA at Oman. He forthrightly asked them that instead of seeking Davis release they should clarify whether his anti-Pakistan activities were justified and whether USA or Pakistan is playing a double game. CIA which was behaving like a rampaging bull in a chinaware shop has for the first time started to listen to ISI’s security concerns expressed by Lt Gen Pasha and has agreed to bridle its agents let loose in Pakistan and curtail its shady activities. Panetta has ceded to ISI’s request of furnishing full details of all under cover agents working in various guises and has reportedly repatriated over 35 of its operatives. This exercise is equally important for USA to ensure security of its citizens working in Pakistan in the backdrop of raised tempers of the public. While it will be naïve to expect the CIA to transform itself from a devil into a saint, it is fair to assume that in future its covert operations will be undertaken with due care and caution and it may show greater sensitivity to Pakistan’s concerns. We on our part should tone down our expectations and lessen our economic dependence on USA to hope for mutually sustaining relationship.

Davis was not released on orders of Zardari but through a legal procedure in which no graft or commission was involved. It was not possible to obtain willingness and written affidavits of all the 19 members of the affected families if pressure had been applied, particularly when each member was quizzed by the judge separately. With regard to forgiveness in return of Diyat (blood money), which is in conformity with Islamic principles, President Zardari and Army chief played a key role in getting the amount raised to Rs two hundred million, plus green cards and jobs in USA for the heirs of the deceased.  Share for Shumaila’s family who had committed suicide has also been catered for, and so is the case for Ubaidur Rehman’s family. The amount has either been paid by the family of Davis, or CIA or Saudi government but certainly not by our government.

Had due course of law been allowed to be completed, it would have taken a very long time and there were dim chances of Davis getting convicted. The case getting transferred to International Court of Justice was a distinct possibility in which case the decision in all probability would have gone in favour of Davis. While Davis would have suffered the pangs of prolonged confinement, but his suffering would have been at the cost of disruption of Pak-US relations, impositions of harsh sanctions and stoppage of loan facilities from world institutions, thus adding to the miseries of the people already groaning under weight of poverty.

It is a matter of satisfaction to note that for the first time such a large amount has been wholly received by the members of deprived class and rulers have not asked for their share. From among over 35000 Pakistanis who have lost their lives at the hands of faceless terrorists and hundreds killed by unknown target killers, these 19 members of two aggrieved families together with Ibad’s family are the only fortunate ones who have been richly compensated for the tragedy that befell upon them. I wish them good luck in all their future doings.

But for the revengeful drone strikes on 17 March killing innocent people, Davis release may not have evoked such a strong backlash. Horrific incident of burning of Holy Quran in Florida by a fanatic preacher Terry Jones has deeply injured the feelings of each and every Muslim in Pakistan. This unfortunate and condemnable incident is likely to further heighten anti-Americanism and reinforce the impression that America is more intolerant and extremist than any other country.

About the Writer: Asif Haroon  is a defence and security analyst and author of several books. Email: [email protected]

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