Saturday, December 18, 2010

CIA Chief in Islamabad reportedly exposed by Pakistani ISI

The Indian English-language on-line newspaper The Hindu today reported that the CIA station chief in Islamabad had to leave Pakistan in a hurry because his cover was blown. The leak was suspected to have come from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Jonathan Banks was identified as the head of the CIA’s Pakistan office, in a lawsuit filed against the United States’ secretive spy agency by a resident of North Waziristan. The resident, Kareem Khan, was said to have filed the case against the CIA and Mr. Banks for their role in organising drone strikes that killed his son and brother.

The legal case brought by Mr. Khan called for murder charges to be brought against Mr. Banks and the CIA, and also reportedly said they should be executed for their crimes. Mr. Khan’s lawyer was quoted by the Guardian saying he had obtained Mr. Banks’ name from Pakistani journalists.

While Pakistan was quick to deny any involvement in leaking Mr. Banks’ name, U.S. officials were quoted as saying that since he had been identified publicly Mr. Banks “had received a number of death threats,” and they “strongly suspected” that the ISI had a hand in the leak.


Intelligence officers here were also quoted by the New York Times as saying that the leak may have been in retaliation for a civil lawsuit filed in New York City last month implicating the ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha in the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008.

The incident laid bare the deep and growing mistrust between the U.S. and Pakistani spy agencies even as U.S. President Barack Obama made a speech this week in which he warned that “terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with.”
That's the news as reported from India. I am no expert on Pakistan, but my reading of news reports over recent years has often included statements that the Taliban in Afghanistan was a creation of elements of the ISI and that some elements of the ISI still support the Taliban.

The removal of the military dictator Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in 2008 allowed a civilian government to be put into place and returned Pakistan to more of a nation under the rule of law. But the civilian heads of government do not appear to have control of all elements of the government and certainly do not have control of all of the territory that is generally recognized as part of the nation of Pakistan. Politically, from what I can tell Pakistan has both a strong fear of its neighbors, resulting in a demand for military power, but that the same time a surprisingly strong desire for a democracy operating under the rule of law.

The core of the problem is often described in the American media as centered on the conflict between Pakistan and India over control of the disputed the state of Kashmir. A quick review of the Wikipedia article on Pakistan suggests that is much too simplistic. In the period since Pakistan became independent in 1947 that nation has constantly been at war or defending its borders on all sides. Briefly, during this period Pakistan has fought wars against India, against China and has fought against aggression from Afghanistan. It is no surprise then that Pakistan has the 7th largest military in the world. Nor should it be a surprise that the ISI would set up and support the Taliban to weaken any Afghanistan government. A strong government in Afghanistan would appear to threaten Pakistan. Since Pakistan faces both China and India on other borders it would be very much to their military advantage to ensure that Afghanistan remains militarily weak and politically divided. However, the Taliban in the Province of Wizirastan are reported to be a threat to the civilian government of Pakistan. The military elements of Pakistan may not consider the Taliban as much of a threat. Since the Taliban are religious extremists, they are unlikely to have much interest in a secular government under the rule of law.

Then there are Pakistan's nuclear weapons. In the threatening neighborhood where Pakistan exists it is no surprise that they would do almost anything to become stronger in a military sense. From the point of view of their neighbors, though, the threat of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India is unthinkably dangerous. (That's assuming such a war would not create a world-wide nuclear winter.) America considers the control of those nuclear weapons by the religious extremist terrorists of the Taliban or al Qaeda to be unthinkable. That remains a major motivation for America to continue to fight against the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and using drone attacks, inside nominally Pakistani territory. Since those drone attacks display the weakness of the current government as well as the inability of the Pakistani military to control the Taliban reliably but at the same time but at the same time weaken the Taliban in Pakistan the mostly negative public response to those attacks is quite reasonable. A government publicly known to be weak draws attackers.

With all of these threats to Pakistan what is really surprising is the effort the Pakistanis are putting into recreating and maintaining a democracy that operates under the rule of law. But the fear of attack from any of their neighbors is very likely a major cause of the weakness of the civilian government since that fear encourages people who want to return to a military-controlled government. That fear also strengthens extremist religious factions, to include those focused on the dispute over Kashmir. So it is organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba which planned and conducted the Terror attack on Mumbai, India in 2008. It seems very likely that Lashkar-e-Taiba has support from some of the military factions inside the Pakistani government and from significant elements of the public.

In short, the entire region including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India and Southwestern China is politically highly unstable. The instability makes it susceptible to disruption by religious extremists, but it is the political instability that is creating and attracting the religious extremists and allowing them to operate. The religious extremists are a symptom of the problems rather than their cause.

That said, elements of the ISI which dislike the interference by the Americans (who for the most part seem to not understand the situation) are unsurprisingly upset about the American drone attacks on elements of the Taliban operating inside Pakistan. Leaking the identity of the Islamabad CIA station chief looks a lot like a statement from Pakistani hardliners to the Amricans to tell them to back off their pressures.

The recent death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke who reputedly understood this part of the world may leave American diplomacy in the hands of conservative Ugly Americans who think that American military power can solve such problems. Whether that is the case or not, it certainly reflects the reputation that Americans in Asia have had as being ignorant ham-handed clueless cowboys since the Vietnam era.

This is a highly speculative article based on news reports, Wikipedia and my own unresearched opinions. The statement in The Hindu stating that the CIA chief in Islamabad has quickly left Pakistan is probably reasonably accurate. The attribution of the leak to the ISI seems reasonable, but doesn't have the same likelihood of being true since the source is not attributed. The rest of this is a collection of facts from Wikipedia (the history found there is probably quite accurate) and my speculations built on those reported facts. We all know that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source, but it usually provides a decent overview of any subject.

Anyone who has better information is requested to leave a comment.

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