ISI wary of American special trainers over spying fears

Reuters And Shaiq Hussain

Request by the ISI for a cut in the number of US Special Forces trainers working in sensitive regions in Pakistan is due to fears they are also spying, according to Pakistani sources with knowledge of the request, illustrating the extent to which growing mutual mistrust is hampering security co-operation, according to a Reuters report. The request was conveyed when ISI chief General Ahmad Shuja Pasha visited his counterpart Leon Panetta at CIA headquarters on Monday.

A US military official in Islamabad confirmed that a reduction in the number of Special Forces troops involved in training Pakistanis in counter-insurgency was being discussed. “Throughout the history of the training mission there have been discussions about the force structure and location of the training,” the official said. “So this should not be perceived as a done deal. But it’s something that we’re talking about.”

The Pakistani military declined to comment. About 120 US Special Forces soldiers are in Pakistan’s northwest to train local security forces in counter-insurgency, but given the increasing strain in the US-Pakistan alliance over the past six months, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani now wants those numbers reduced.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official would not officially comment on the reduction, but said it might be more about appearances than genuine pique, given the sensitivity over foreign troops on Pakistani soil. “It makes it look like the Americans are here conducting operations,” the official said. Any reduction would impact Washington’s ability to gather intelligence for its drone campaign and Pakistan’s counter-insurgency efforts.

“We want American Special Forces to come and train our people so we can collaborate, but if they get into other activities we don’t want them,” said an instructor at the National Defense University in Islamabad. He said “other activities” could include spying on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme or having contact with militant groups. There is a suspicion among the senior military leadership that Americans troops are gathering intelligence on such groups and not sharing the information, or even actively helping them.

“The main suspicion is why are they staying after completing their job? Their job was to train the trainers so they should have gone back after that,” another security official said. “But they are over-staying.” The crucial meeting between the intelligence chiefs of the US and Pakistan failed to break the stalemate, as Washington showed its inability to extend firm assurance to Pakistan regarding the withdrawal of CIA operatives from Pakistan, while Pakistan expressed its unwillingness to resume the cooperation suspended since the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis. After the meeting, a CIA spokesman reportedly said the relations between the two agencies remained on “solid footing”.

He said, “Director Panetta and General Pasha held productive discussions and the CIA-ISI relationship remains on solid footing.” However, diplomatic circles said despite the four-hour talks being held cordially, with both sides trying hard to iron out differences on contentious issues such as presence of a large number of CIA operatives in Pakistan, the meeting proved to be a “non-starter”.


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