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CIA-ISI partnership after Davis

The ISI executed the entire operation, practically took over the jail and made the families of the victims – Faheem and Faizan – sign the compensation deal within minutes of Davis’ “indictment” by the judge, Yousuf Ojla

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times,Mar 25, 2011

It was a classic proverbial mid-night deal secured by all those who matter in this country – from the presidential palace on the Hilltop to Aabpara to the General Headquarter in Rawalpindi, underscoring a “consensus among all the stake-holders in the current power structure” that Davis deserved no diplomatic immunity but his case would be wrapped up before sunrise on March 16, in the heavily fortified Kot Lakhpat jail. Everyone involved would be out of the country before people would come to know about it. This is precisely what came to transpire. The Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) executed the entire operation, practically took over the jail and made the families of the victims – Faheem and Faizan – sign the compensation deal within minutes of Davis’ “indictment” by the judge, Yousuf Ojla. The ISI then led six US Consulate vehicles to the Lahore Airport where reportedly 18 passengers boarded a special aircraft and left Pakistan before dawn. 

Although the counsel of the bereaved families alleged that the families of Faizan and Fahim had been forcibly brought from their homes to the court to ink the “2.3 million blood money deal at gunpoint,” yet from the government perspective, the Davis saga ended rather smoothly, thereby marking the beginning of a new phase in the increasingly wobbly CIA-ISI relationship.

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani’s March 18 statement made the end game crystal clear. The brief statement basically radiated with the warmth of the “grand national consensus” on the Davis case. “The country’s leadership including the opposition had reached a consensus that the final decision would be taken by the court”. The court, he said, decided in favour of Davis’ release, which was carried out with alacrity and it was therefore inappropriate to hold any single institution responsible for the final outcome of the case.

As events suggest, US-appointed fire-fighter Senator John Kerry’s dash to Islamabad mid February laid out the main contours of bilateral understanding; the government would try to sort out the matter on the basis of diyat (blood money) before the court indicted Davis on murder charges. Kerry was probably also assured that Davis would not be charged for espionage.

Consequently, on February 23, General Kayani held extensive discussions with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen; US Central Command Commander General James Mattis; US Special Operations Command Commander Admiral Eric Olson and NATO Commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus. At these meetings the ongoing CIA-ISI-led cooperation was reviewed and the military leaders probably also revised the Terms of Reference (ToRs) of this decade old transactional relationship, which both sides tout as a “strategic relationship”. 

Many observers point out that the management of the Davis case by the ISI essentially underscored three realities, (i) that the ISI managed to score a point about unbridled CIA activities through security contractors, ii) that the military continues to dominate the political landscape in Pakistan (would Davis be out of jail had the ISI opposed it is the million dollar question?) and iii) the ISI led establishment cut a deal in its own interest.

While the deal is still shrouded in mystery, it will likely help in restoring the CIA-ISI working relationship. It has also helped Nawaz Sharif getting a new lease of political life; by virtually staying quiet away in a London hospital, Sharif successfully washed off his “dangerous anti-American image” (as had been revealed by American diplomats in the cables released by the Wikieleaks).

If events of the past are any indication, the Davis deal is not likely to change the pragmatism underpinning ISI-CIA cooperation; this particular case might put some constraints direct CIA operations such as mapping of the militant networks in mainland Pakistan, particularly in south Punjab but Waziristan remains the point of consensus for the two agencies. A drone strike less than 24 hours of Davis’s departure underlined the CIA’s focus on North Waziristan

Kayani’s condemnation and the protest lodged with the US ambassador highlighted two issues; the drone strike on March 17 gave the ISI and the army a good ruse to fend off severe criticism flowing from their direct handling of the Davis case and it also exposed the limitations of the Pakistani security apparatus. Continued Predator attacks on Dattakhel suggest that this security apparatus is either unable to penetrate areas, where Americans believe al-Qaeda-linked militants are being sheltered or it is complicit with the militant network based in that region. Either way the CIA would continue justifying the use of drones for taking out militants that it says threaten the larger US-NATO interests in Afghanistan.

Davis case, therefore, might have caused frictions between the CIA and ISI, but its settlement is not likely to change the direction of CIA’s air campaign in Waziristan. Since Pakistan is reluctant in going after what the US forces consider “the den of terrorists”, the CIA will keep lobbing Hellfire missiles into Waziristan. The US establishment will also desperately try to keep Pakistan on board for its phased withdrawal plans because the perceived success of the US military surge and partial disengagement hinges on Pakistani cooperation. That is why the US administration desperately wanted to remove the irritant ie Raymond Davis out of the way before Prime Minister Gilani is likely to consent to Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s announcements on transition plans. 

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk