DG ISI’s Washington yatra
Sultan M Hali
Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s visit to the US has evoked more interest and comments than the visit of any other official. This is a sad reality coming up against the backdrop of deteriorating relations between the erstwhile allies in the war on terror. Normally, the meetings between heads of strategic organisations are shrouded in mystery, as they comprise the cloak and dagger stuff. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been allies, but became estranged in the last 15 months or so. In fact, the media bashing by both Langley (CIA HQs) and Aabpara (ISI HQs) was reminiscent of the “Spy vs. Spy” comic strip by Antonio Prohias in the Mad magazine, highlighting the rivalry between KGB and CIA at the peak of the cold war.
The Raymond Davis fiasco last year, followed by the May 2 attack to eliminate Osama bin Laden and the November 26 assault by the US forces on Salala, spiralled the Pak-US ties to their lowest ebb. President Asif Zardari’s nominal presence at the Chicago Afghan Peace Conference did not help improve relations. However, Pakistan’s strategic decision to open the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC), leading eventually to the DG ISI’s visit to Washington worked as a panacea, bringing a significant thaw in the Pak-US relations. The visit also frustrated the detractors of Pakistan, ruining their machinations to create a negative impact on its outcome. Pessimistic media speculations, however, led to misperceptions among the domestic masses.
Some quarters inferred that the visit was likely to result in a stalemate, given the nationalists’ pledges and assertions. It was envisaged that the DG ISI’s Washington yatra will end up conceding to US demands. A whispering campaign worked as fodder for the rumour mill among the general masses that Pakistan was going to launch an operation in North Waziristan (NW) under US diktat. It was also envisaged that a deal has been struck with the US/CIA for undertaking a joint operation codenamed “Tight Screw”, in which boots on grounds have been accepted. The grist mill asserted that Pakistani demands on the core issue of drone attacks in Fata have been overruled by its counterpart. And that Islamabad has not been able to convince Washington to end the attacks, hand over drone technology to Pakistan, or even share target intelligence with it.
The situation reached a head, thus Foreign Office Spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan, during his weekly briefing, had to quash rumours about the efficacy of the visit. He stated that Pakistan and the US are deliberating on proposals to further enhance bilateral ties. Khan termed the DG ISI’s visit to the US as productive and declared that both the countries were looking forward to take measures to improve bilateral relations. Pakistan and the US are discussing several proposals to bring their relationship back on track. He, however, refrained from sharing specific details at this stage.
Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam as compared to his predecessor, Lieutenant General Pasha, is more low-key. Pasha had weathered many a storm, but considering that it was General Zaheer’s maiden yatra to Washington as DG ISI, his performance is not counterproductive, as it is being claimed by certain sections of the press. Zaheer had the full backing of the civil and military leadership and that must have stood him in good stance, while dealing with his CIA counterpart - the wily General Petraeus, who is a veteran of the Afghan war and adept at spinning webs.
Sources privy to the meetings claim that there is no deal between Pakistan and America to undertake Operation Tight Screw. Reportedly, Zaheer held his own in projecting Pakistan’s numerous sacrifices in fighting the war on terror and sought acknowledgement for them. He also demanded that the drone attacks in Fata should be abandoned or drone technology be handed over to Pakistan, as incessant attacks were fuelling anti-US feelings in the country.
A common misperception, which is being created by the international media, is that Pakistan supports the Haqqani Network for their operations inside Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan has always denied using the Haqqanis as surrogate or proxy warriors against the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan. Instead it seeks the termination of the TTP-led attacks that continue to wreak havoc within Pakistan.