Monday, February 28, 2011



If the reports on the issue are critically scrutinised, it looks like a staring down contest between the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and the US has begun. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chiefs, Leon Panetta and General Ahmad Shuja Pasha have spoken on the phone and the ISI has asked that information be given to it about all CIA operatives in Pakistan. It seems that the Raymond Davis affair has given way to something bigger, more substantial, and more beneficial for the security agencies of Pakistan.

The intelligence agencies of Pakistan have a few ideas of their own that they may feel might just get sorted out by the debacle that is the Raymond Davis fiasco. It is no secret that the US has persistently pressurised Pakistan for some time to relax its visa-processing regime for its citizens. Reports in the media have asserted that this request was acceded to by the government without proper security clearance and that visas were issued en masse starting from July last year. The reports imply that the security and intelligence agencies were bypassed for this purpose. If for the sake of argument (although US complaints of delayed visas have not abated) the assertion is accepted, it implies that either the security and intelligence agencies failed to insist on proper clearance or the government was able to circumvent well laid down and long established procedures for the purpose. Both arguments seem incredible as they imply a breakdown in government procedures, an assertion for which there is no proof except the (seemingly motivated) reports in the less responsible sections of our media. So what is the truth?

Our intelligence and security agencies are known to be less than well pleased with the efforts of the civilian democratically elected government to forge ties between the US and Pakistan that rely more on the political government rather than the older Musharraf-era conduit of the intelligence and security agencies. For the latter, the villain of the piece is our Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, who has been accused of responsibility for ‘unleashing’ the Raymond Davis brigade inside Pakistan. Now while this, and his alleged responsibility for the critical sections of the Kerry-Lugar Act regarding civil-military relations may be enough to earn him the ire of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, it exaggerates the role of the Ambassador and depreciates the way the US’s system works. It is very difficult to believe that anything manages to escape the careful watch of our intelligence agencies. Even if the civilian government has expedited visa issuance for US citizens (although the evidence does not support this contention), there is hardly a chance that these visas are granted without some measure of scrutiny by the establishment. However, it may be that this scrutiny has not been up to par, partly because the US and the CIA’s covert operatives had better covers than our spooks could detect. If this is so, it is hugely embarrassing for our redoubtable agencies. The Raymond Davis affair may just have handed Pakistan’s security agencies a convenient leverage to roll back any suggestion of a ‘liberalised’ visa regime and wrest complete control of it from the civilian government.

Davis may have sent the relationship between the two countries spiralling to new lows but the fact remains that there is a bigger picture at hand. While the whole affair may have given our security agencies more leverage to demand details of CIA operatives working within Pakistan, it may also have given them a bargaining chip in the greater game. It is well known that differences exist between Pakistan and the US, and the intelligence agencies of both, on the war on terror and the fact that Pakistan has given safe havens to the Afghan Taliban, its proxies for the approaching endgame in Afghanistan. This has restricted the civilian government’s say and leg-room to manoeuvre.

The Raymond Davis saga may just provide the security agencies of Pakistan with enough sway to ensure that, after the looming US withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, Pakistan has its finger in the proverbial pie with its Afghan Taliban proxies sitting comfortably at the Afghan table.

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