Pak., U.S. entered into a secret deal: NYT

In a secret deal, Pakistan allowed American drone strikes on its soil on the condition that the unmanned aircraft would stay away from its nuclear facilities and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India, according to a media report.

Under negotiations between the ISI and the CIA during 2004, the terms of the bargain were set, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

“Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that drones fly only in narrow parts of the tribal areas — ensuring that they would not venture where Islamabad did not want the Americans going: Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India,” the paper said.

Pakistani officials also insisted that they be allowed to approve each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets, it added.

The “secret deal” over drone strikes was reached after CIA agreed to kill tribal warlord Nek Muhammad, a Pakistani ally of the Afghan Taliban who led a rebellion and was marked by Islamabad as an “enemy of the state”, the NYT reported, citing an excerpt from the book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth.

A CIA official had met the then ISI Chief Ehsan ul-Haq with the offer that if the American intelligence agency killed Muhammad, “would the ISI allow regular armed drone flights over the tribal areas”, the report said.

ISI-CIA bargain

The ISI and CIA also agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the American agency’s “covert action authority”, which meant that the U.S. would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent.

While Pakistani officials had in the past considered drone flights a violation of sovereignty, it was Muhammad’s rise to power that forced them to reconsider their line of thought and eventually allow Predator drones.

The ISI-CIA’s “back-room bargain” sheds light on the beginning of the covert drone war which “began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama”.

From capture to kill

The deal resulted in the CIA changing its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped “transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organisation”.

After Muhammad’s killing in a drone strike, a Pakistani military spokesman had told reporters that “al-Qaeda facilitator” Nek Muhammad and four other “militants” had been killed in a rocket attack by Pakistani troops, the paper said.

During the time when the negotiations were being held, CIA’s then Inspector-General John Helgerson came out with a critical report about the abuse of detainees in the agency’s secret prisons.

Mr. Helgerson’s report has been described as the single most important reason for the CIA’s shift from capturing to killing terrorism suspects.

CIA’s Counterterrorism Centre (CTC) had earlier focused on capturing al-Qaeda operatives, interrogating them in its jails or outsourcing interrogations to intelligence services of Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and using the information to hunt more suspects. Mr. Helgerson’s report raised questions about interrogation methods like waterboarding and sleep deprivation, raising concerns that it violated the UN Convention Against Torture.

The report “was the beginning of the end” for CTC’s detention programme.

“The ground had shifted, and counterterrorism officials began to rethink the strategy for the secret war. Armed drones, and targeted killings in general, offered a new direction. Killing by remote control was the antithesis of the dirty, intimate work of interrogation.

“Targeted killings were cheered by Republicans and Democrats alike, and using drones flown by pilots who were stationed thousands of miles away made the whole strategy seem risk-free. Before long the CIA would go from being the long-term jailer of America’s enemies to a military organisation that erased them,” the NYT report said.