U.S. Relations With Pakistan Sour

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/135399670/135399705" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

After weeks of seething anger at the United States over the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, Pakistan is moving to downsize the American footprint in the country.

Relations sunk to their lowest level in recent years after the CIA security official shot dead two Pakistani men in January. The incendiary case ended with Davis being freed following payment of $2 million to the families of the men he killed.

The Raymond Davis affair has so seriously harmed relations that a Pakistani senior intelligence source says his country's spy agency has frozen its joint operations with the CIA. Where there used to be some "100 such operations a year, "the source said, now there are none — a potential blow to efforts to hunt for dangerous militants.

Observers and analysts talk about the state of this often troubled relationship with a new sense of urgency.

"This is a situation which is truly speaking unsustainable," says Ret. Gen. Talat Mahsood.

Dawn newspaper columnist Cyril Almeida asserts that: "This is not a relationship based on trust or positive strategic interests, perhaps what you are seeing with India. This is a relationship based on fear," including U.S. anxiety about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falling into unsavory hands.

Security analyst and author Ayesha Siddiqa says she believes "there's been a fundamental transformation" in relations underscored by negative perceptions about the way the United States conducts itself.

"Yes, the engagement will remain," she says, "but ideologically, the situation at this moment is irreparable. America's perception in the eyes of the general public, or in the eyes of the military itself, is not going to change."

The Pakistani intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity says there are some "40 to 60 [American] operatives" inside Pakistan whose work "we don't know about and we're asking [the U.S.] for visibility on that," he says. "Some may have already left the country ... We are watching and waiting for the Americans to come clean."

The idea of armed Americans like Raymond David able to roam Pakistan at will has enraged the Pakistani public — and humiliated its intelligence agency, the ISI.

"We have a right to know," who's here, says the Pakistani official. "You keep saying we are an ally, so don't treat us like a satellite."

Ret. Ambassador Ashraf Qazi is head of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

Ret. Ambassador Ashraf Qazi is head of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Julie McCarthy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy/NPR

He also says Pakistan wants the U.S. to cut the number of its special operations officers working and training Pakistani soldiers. U.S. sources say that contingent is supposed to be 120-strong. The Pakistani intelligence source says that number has crept "higher," but gave no specific figure.

The New York Times reported that, in all, 335 CIA officers, contractors and Special Forces were being asked to leave the country, a figure both U.S. and Pakistani sources thought was exaggerated.

But analyst Ayesha Siddiqa says the number of affected U.S. personnel is less significant than what Pakistan is conveying when it tells the Americans to reduce its footprint.

"It is meant to send the message that 'look we don't want things to be done [on] your terms. We are suspicious of whom you are sending.' So this is just what you call signaling — to restructure the relationship more to Pakistan's advantage," Siddiqa says.

To say the U.S. image has suffered is to understate the case by several orders of magnitude.

But the United States is on the diplomatic offensive. U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter this week ventured back into the public eye with some fence-mending.

"We want to see renewal ... I'm here today to talk about the opportunities of the future, not these problems of the past. But those problems were acute in recent months symbolized by the case of Raymond Davis ... We must not let this very regrettable incident stop us as we work together for Pakistan's bright future with America's determined help," Munter said.

The audience of academics and diplomats, however, peppered the ambassador with pointed questions that reveal deep antagonism toward American policies, and none more so than the CIA drone program.

One questioner told Munter: "Please can you give us a definite time to stop drone attacks on Pakistan?" He then told the ambassador to take that plea to Washington.

Ret. Ambassador Ashraf Qazi hosted Munter at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad. He says the United States is underestimating the antagonism toward the drones, and adds they might just be illegal.

"Whatever legal arguments you come up with, the fact is that it does alienate public opinion in a very big way here," he says.

Wednesday the U.S. launched its first airstrike since the drone attack of March 17 that set off a furor inside Pakistan when it reportedly killed many civilians who had gathered in a jirga, or meeting, to decide a mining dispute in the tribal area of North Waziristan.

The Pakistan government, adopting a more robust attitude toward the drones strikes, took the unusual step of issuing a demarche to the U.S. ambassador over Wednesday's strike that killed six suspected militants.

The timing of the incident is seen as significant. The attack came as Pakistan's spy chief, Gen.l Ahmed Shaju Pasha, was returning from Washington where he had met with CIA Chief Leon Panetta. Gen. Pasha is said to have called for limiting the scope of the drone strikes.

When word of Wednesday's drone attack reached the Pakistani intelligence official who spoke anonymously, he raised his eyebrows and said: "Is it a message? 'We'll continue to do what we want, irrespective of what you say.' If it is a message, it's the wrong one."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.