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Pakistan Arrests Informants Who Helped CIA Ahead Of Bin Laden Raid

  • RFE/RL

A Pakistani vendor sells local magazines carrying news of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. forces in Abbottabad.

A Pakistani vendor sells local magazines carrying news of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. forces in Abbottabad.

Pakistan's top military spy agency has reportedly arrested five Pakistani informants who helped the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ahead of last month's raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

U.S. officials told "The New York Times" that the arrests included a Pakistani Army major who had copied the license-plate numbers of cars that drove up to bin Laden's Abbottabad compound in the weeks before the May 1-2 raid. One U.S. official in Islamabad told reporters that another Pakistani man arrested was the owner of the property near bin Laden's compound that was used by the CIA as a safe house and observation post.

The public-relations department for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has refuted the report, which said a Pakistani Army major had been detained in connection with what it called "the Abbottabad incident." An ISI spokesman said reports that a Pakistani Army officer had been detained were "false and totally baseless."

"The New York Times" reported that CIA Director Leon Panetta raised the issue of the arrests when he traveled to Islamabad last week to meet with Pakistani military and intelligence officers.

Panetta, who is President Barack Obama's choice to replace outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said at his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington last week that the killing of bin Laden should be an opportunity to further weaken the terrorist network with more raids and drone missile strikes.

But instead of hunting down the support network that allowed bin Laden to live comfortably for years near a top Pakistani military academy, Pakistani authorities are apparently arresting those who helped the United States carry out the raid by U.S. forces who killed bin Laden.

'3' Out Of 10

Recent developments illustrate what appears to be a growing disconnect between the military and intelligence communities of Pakistan and the United States.

U.S. Congressman Dan Burton, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told RFE/RL recently about U.S. intelligence reports on bin Laden's network in Pakistan that he had seen.

"We believe that there are some people in Pakistan who have been protecting Osama bin Laden. We don't know how high up, exactly, the support went. I'm sure through our intelligence sources we could probably give you a pretty good idea," Burton said.

"We don't like what happened. We know that people knew Osama bin Laden was there. Our goal is to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And Pakistan -- even though we have our disagreements and there have been some problems like Osama bin Laden -- we still have the problem. And we need to work with them, or find ways to work with them, to solve the problem."

"The New York Times" report quotes CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell as ranking Pakistan's current cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations as "3" on a scale of 1 to 10.

Indeed, reports suggest Washington's relations are strained more with Pakistani military and intelligence officials than with Pakistan's government in Islamabad.

U.S. officials say the ISI intelligence agency generally has been unwilling to cooperate on surveillance operations for the CIA against suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants since January when a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis on a street in Lahore.

After the killing of bin Laden at the beginning of May, Pakistan's military also has been distancing itself from U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism operations against militant groups in Pakistan.

Goes Way Back

Saleem Safi, a journalist and defense analyst for Pakistan's private Urdu-language Geo TV, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal on June 15 that there has been a reluctant relationship between military and intelligence officials from Pakistan and the United States since Al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

"From the very beginning, this has not been a love relationship," Safi said. "It was rather an obligatory relationship. Sometimes one side does not accept 100 percent of the demands of the other side. They make friendship and support each other, but they play games with each other as well. Whenever one side finds an opportunity, they put pressure on other side to force them to accept their remaining demands."

Safi said the revelation bin Laden had been living for years very close to the Pakistani military academy at Abbottabad has put the United States in a position to pressure Islamabad since the raid that killed the Al-Qaeda leader.

"Before the May 2 incident Pakistan somehow had the upper hand in this game. But after [the raid that killed bin Laden], the United States has had the upper hand," Safi said. "That is why the United States has been able to put pressure on Pakistan -- sometimes through news stories in the media and through lawmakers."

Pakistani defense analyst Ayesha Seddique, the author of "Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy," a book that critically examines the business interests of Pakistan's military and intelligence community, told Radio Mashaal that the arrests of Pakistani CIA informants by Pakistan's military illuminates a changing relationship between Washington and Pakistan's military.

"This incident shows that there are divisions within Pakistan's army who support such action," Seddique said. "Another reason is that Pakistan's army is not ready to take dictations from the United States. That is why the strategic thinking of both countries is going in different direction."

'Pakistan's War'

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari insisted during a visit to Islamabad by Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week that it's in Islamabad's interest to fight Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who have stepped up attacks within Pakistan since bin Laden's death.

"We don't need to be under pressure to fight anybody. We are defending Pakistan ourselves," Zardari said. "It is Pakistan's war, and we will fight our own war. These are Pakistan's enemies. These are people who are killing our children, killing our brothers, killing our sisters. These are people who murdered the mother of my children. So as far as I am concerned, I don't fight anybody else's war. Pakistan is fighting its own war."

Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, told "The New York Times" that the CIA and Pakistan's ISI were "working out mutually agreeable terms for their cooperation in fighting the menace of terrorism." Haqqani said it was inappropriate to comment further for now.

Some lawmakers in Washington, increasingly frustrated over allegations that Pakistan has been playing a double game with Washington in the war against terrorism, are calling for more restrictions on the $2 billion in U.S. military aid that Pakistan receives each year.

Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said on June 14 that he thinks elements of the ISI and Pakistan's military had helped protect bin Laden.

After meeting in Islamabad last week with senior Pakistani security officials, Rogers said he had no evidence that top military or civilian leaders were complicit in sheltering bin Laden. But he said his accusation was based on "information that I've seen."

Rogers is calling for the imposition of "benchmarks" as a condition for further U.S. aid to Pakistan. Those benchmarks would include the sharing of information about the activities of Islamic militants in Karachi, Lahore, and other parts of Pakistan, as well as more access for U.S. intelligence officers to detained militants in Pakistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Pakistan's cooperation is essential for reconciliation between Taliban militants in Afghanistan and the Kabul government to succeed.

"For reconciliation [in Afghanistan] to succeed, Pakistan must be a part of that process," Clinton said. "Many of the leaders of the Taliban continue to live in Pakistan, and Pakistan has very legitimate interests in the outcome of this process, and those interests need to be respected and addressed."

Clinton described reconciliation as a key part of the U.S. strategy on Afghanistan, saying it is "an Afghan-led process that seeks to split the Taliban from Al-Qaeda and reconcile insurgents who renounce violence and accept the Constitution of Afghanistan."

written by Ron Synovitz based on RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal and agency reports

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