In secret deal, ISI allows U.S. drone war to resume

File photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone over the Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan. Sources say Pakistan's military has agreed to the resumption of U.S. drone strikes against terrorist groups operating on its soil.   | Photo Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth

Pakistan's military has agreed to the resumption of the United States' drone strikes against terrorist groups operating on its soil, highly-placed diplomatic sources told The Hindu.

The agreement, the sources said, was hammered out by Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Shuja Ahmad Pasha and Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus at a secret meeting in Doha last month.

The pact ends a six-week cessation of operation that began after a November 26, 2011 U.S. airstrike claimed the lives of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Islamabad had responded to the deaths by shutting down drone flights from the Shamsi in Balochistan, and ordering dozens of CIA staff out of the country.

Pakistan's intelligence chief also agreed, the sources said, to allow the CIA to expand its presence at the Shahbaz airbase near Abbottabad. The base is a key hub for the CIA's field networks to identify targets and plant electronic microchips that guide drone-fired missiles to their targets.

The drone agreement, a senior western official familiar with the negotiations told The Hindu, was driven by Pakistani intelligence's desire for greater influence in ongoing negotiations in Doha between the U.S. and the Taliban.

It also reflected, he said, the realisation that the U.S. support would be critical to rescheduling repayment of loans from the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions.

Nine drone strikes have taken place since the meeting. Badr Mansoor, believed by the CIA to be al-Qaeda's seniormost Pakistani commander, was killed in one attack on February 9. Aslam Awan, another alleged al-Qaeda commander, was killed in a strike on January 10.

Even though upwards of 30 people have been killed in the new wave of strikes, there have been no protest from the Pakistan Army or politicians — in stark contrast to the fury aroused by similar attacks last year.

ISI about-turn

Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show that both Pakistan Army Chief Parvez Kayani and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had secretly authorised the drone campaign, even while opposing it in public.

The Pakistan Army, however, stepped up its opposition to the drone programme last year, seeking to use it as a bargaining chip to deter CIA operations targeting terrorist networks with close links to the ISI, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Afghan jihadist Sirajuddin Haqqani's networks.

Following a strike directed at Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, which claimed over 40 lives, General Kayani called the drone operations “intolerable.”

The drone war, his aides privately argued, had made Pakistan a target of retaliatory bombings by terrorists, and diminished the ISI's influence with jihadist groups at home and in Afghanistan.

Figures compiled by the Washington, DC-based New America Foundation show there were 362 drone strikes last year, in which between 362 and 500 jihadists were killed. In 2010, the U.S. carried out 581 strikes, killing up to 939.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 2:38:58 PM |

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