Can Pakistan force US to back off special ops and drone attacks?
Pakistan is trying to use the case of the CIA's Raymond Davis to limit US drone strikes and covert operations on its soil. But with its reliance on US aid, how much leverage does it really have?
The US counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan has long relied heavily on covert operations in neighboring Pakistan: US intelligence agents and Special Forces units working to find out which extremist groups were planning what actions, and American drones attacking the safe havens in northwest Pakistan from which the Taliban launch cross-border operations.Skip to next paragraph
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That strategy has been thrown for a loop by Pakistan’s latest demands: that the CIA drastically reduce its numbers in the country and that the intensely unpopular drone strikes be reduced and henceforth only launched by a binational decision-making process.
Pakistan has made similar demands before, and this time around it may be using what it sees as an opportune moment to try to gain more influence over US operations – perhaps to nip what it sees as an increasingly “go-it-alone” US counterterrorist approach within Pakistani borders.
But some regional experts say that, whatever its aims may be, Pakistan is now pushing the never-easy relationship with the US harder than ever before.
“Above all, what they’re annoyed about and motivated by is the sense that they don’t know what’s going on in their own country,” says Marvin Weinbaum, a former Pakistan specialist at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. “If they’ve decided to play harder ball now, it’s because they feel they have some leverage to change a situation they don’t like.”
That “leverage” comes as a result of the case of Raymond Davis, the CIA security contractor who caused a national uproar in Pakistan in January when he killed two men he said were following him in Lahore – and who turned out to be Pakistani intelligence agents. Mr. Davis was arrested on murder charges and was only released after the US applied intense pressure.
“The Pakistanis took the heat [from the Pakistani public] for letting Davis go, and in effect they’re now out for something in return,” says Dr. Weinbaum, now a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in Washington.
Pakistan is not demanding the CIA’s complete departure from its territory, although it is calling for all US intelligence contractors to leave the country. Nor is Pakistan demanding an end to all drone strikes.