Pakistan Arrests CIA Informants in Bin Laden Case

The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence has arrested five Pakistani informants who gave the CIA information leading to the raid on Usamah Bin Laden’s compound at Abbotabad, according to the NYT. The arrests appear to have happened some time ago, and were part of the recent consultations of Leon Panetta, who is transitioning from CIA chief to Secretary of Defense, with Pakistani officials.

From an American point of view, that Pakistan arrested the informants rather than giving them medals suggests perfidy. But from a Pakistani point of view, they can’t be having nationals working for a foreign intelligence agency and enabling foreign special operations raids into the country from outside.

The security relationship between the US and Pakistan is breaking down in 2011 in alarming ways. The Raymond Davis case, in which a CIA operative shot down two Pakistani men in broad daylight at a roundabout in Lahore last January, and then the consulate extraction team failed to get to him in time and ran over a third man on the way, had soured relations. Ironically, the US government sprang Davis by appealing to sharia or Islamic law, arranging for the relatives of the slain men to be paid blood money. Oklahoma, which has banned sharia, should be advised.

Then the US mission into Islamabad that ended with the death of Bin Laden came as a shock to the Pakistani elite, both because it looked as though some elements in Pakistan may have been sheltering the terrorist and mass murderer and because the US had so blithely ignored Pakistani sovereignty in not telling Islamabad about the operation.

The arrest of the informants, however, is less dire than and has fewer clear lessons than US politicians such as Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan suggest.

First of all, if the ISI had been actively sheltering Bin Laden, it would have been apparent in the computer files and papers the SEALs carried off from his compound. In reality, what has so far leaked from the US government in this regard is that there is no such evidence in that material. That Bin Laden had some sort of ‘support network’ in Pakistan is clear; that Gen. Shuja Pasha of the ISI or army chief of staff Pervez Kayani were part of it seems incredible. If the US had evidence to that effect, it surely would have deployed it by now.

Second, the US covert activities in Pakistan have become public and are unpopular among the public, just as the US would not react positively to being spied on, bombed and having rogue operations go bad on city streets– all by even a close ally. Pakistan’s democracy is fragile, but it does have parliamentary elections and parties can win or lose on public opinion, and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party has suffered in the public eye by its complaisance toward US interference in the country. Moreover, the powerful military establishment in Islamabad is furious at US high-handedness. The British ruled what is now Pakistan from the 1840s until 1947, and Pakistan was supposed to be about South Asian Muslim independence and self-reliance, so that having a super-power’s deputy commissioners reinserted into the country is most unwelcome to a lot of Pakistanis.

The United States needs to put things like drone attacks in the hands of the Department of Defense rather than in those of the CIA, so that they are not covert operations but rather elements of war-fighting. The US needs a Status of Forces Agreement with the Pakistani government laying out the terms of legitimate US actions in that country. And the Obama administration needs to come to Congress for authorization to bomb Pakistan (just as it should have gone to Congress with regard to Libya).

US bad relations with Pakistan at the moment derive from using the CIA in paramilitary ways in a no-man’s land of covert action that lacks any framework of international or bilateral law. If Washington goes on like this, it will push Pakistan altogether into the arms of the Chinese and it will set up a negative situation for its likely withdrawal from Afghanistan, in which Islamabad has powerful perceived interests that the US has not respected.

The US-Pakistan relationship is important and can be repaired, but it must be by the two countries acting like democracies, not cartoon spies.

(From Informed Comment)

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