Pakistan demands drawdown of US drones, CIA agents

The disclosure comes after the head of Pakistani intelligence abruptly cut short a trip to Washington this week after meeting with CIA director Leon Panetta yesterday.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP
Members of Waziristan Students Federation chant slogan during a rally to condemn US drone attacks in Waziristan tribal regions, on March 19, in Peshawar, Pakistan.

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Pakistan officials are demanding a drastic reduction in the number of US agents working covertly in the country, as well as a complete halt to drone attacks targeting militants in the country's northwest, The New York Times reports.

Such a reduction would be a major blow to America's ability to monitor and thwart the activity of militant groups, particularly those who use the northwestern part of the country as a launch pad for attacks on US troops in Afghanistan.

The demand is a direct result of the Raymond Davis debacle, which exacerbated tensions between the US and Pakistan and underscored a lack of trust between the two countries' intelligence agencies.

In January, Mr. Davis, a CIA contractor working secretly in the country under the guise of being a low-level US embassy employee in Lahore, shot and killed two young Pakistani men who he said were trying to rob him. It was believed he was in the country attempting to penetrate the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

US insistence on his diplomatic immunity and Pakistani insistence on trying him in a local court put an enormous strain on relations between the two countries, already weakened by disagreements about drone attacks.

"That public realization that the US does act independently of the Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had plunged relations between the CIA and the ISI to a new low," the Christian Science Monitor reported after Davis's release.

The disclosure of Pakistan's demands came after the head of Pakistani intelligence, Gen. Ahmad Suja Pasha, traveled to Washington on Monday to meet with CIA Director Leon Panetta, according to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. General Pasha intended to address a number of issues putting strains on US-Pakistani relations, particularly the perception among Pakistani officials that they are not trusted by their American counterparts.

The Times of India and Hindustan Times both reported that Pasha was supposed to stay in the US longer, but cut his visit short for undisclosed reasons and returned to Pakistan following the meeting. However, CIA spokesman George Little told The New York Times that the meetings were "productive" and that US and Pakistan intelligence "remain on solid footing."

Officially, the two intelligence agencies are supposed to be cooperating on covert operations in the country, but the US has increasingly been working unilaterally and withholding information from Pakistan's intelligence agency, Inter-services Intelligence. That move has offended ISI and breached an unofficial understanding between the agencies, according to The Dawn.

“In normal circumstances, the names of people like Raymond Davis are passed on through normal diplomatic channels and their diplomatic credentials and status are verified through our own channels," a Pakistani official told Dawn. “But in this case, and in hundreds of other similar cases, the whole procedure was set aside and we were bypassed."

According to a Pakistani official quoted in the Times, 335 CIA agents and Special Operations forces will be told to leave. It's unclear what percentage of the total number of agents in the country there could be, because the US does not disclose the full number operating in Pakistan. Pakistan is demanding the removal of all like Davis, whose work in the country is unknown to ISI.

Pakistani officials are also increasingly incensed by US drone attacks, which are unpopular among the Pakistani public. Officials complain that the US has stopped sharing intelligence on how it chooses targets and that it has extended the strikes beyond North Waziristan, the militant stronghold that Pakistan has permitted strikes on, The New York Times reported.

Military leaders in Pakistan says the drone campaign has exceeded its original scope and needs to be pulled back, according to Dawn. A lack of information sharing with the ISI has led to civilian casualties that could have been avoided.

"Islamabad wanted the intelligence to be shared with it before any strike to eliminate any possibility of collateral damage. 'We want the intelligence to be carefully verified,' the official said."

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