As though tensions between Washington and Islamabad weren't already running high enough, Pakistan's media helped to ratchet up diplomatic pressure by throwing out the name of a man it claimed was the CIA's station chief in the Pakistani capital. They apparently got the name wrong, but debate rages on over whether officials leaked the information as retaliation for the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden and embarrassed the government.
The Associated Press reports that the name is wrong, but the Pakistani television channel that first broadcast it insists that the identity of the Islamabad CIA chief is “based on facts."
"If we did not mention the man's name, the credibility of the story would have been reduced," Sabir Shakir, the Islamabad bureau chief of the ARY television channel told the Wall Street Journal.
In the aftermath of the U.S. raid on the compound in which Osama bin Laden was hiding, U.S. lawmakers and government officials are questioning how or why Pakistan failed to find him sooner. The Navy SEAL team that killed the al-Qaida leader recovered an array of computers, DVDs, hard drives, and other data-storage devices--apparently the size of a small college library. The U.S. is analyzing the data for more information about other terrorists and to gain insight into whether Pakistan intentionally harbored bin Laden. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are calling into question the billions of dollars in aid provided to Islamabad for its counterterrorism cooperation.
Even as news reports circulate over the identity of the Islamabad CIA chief, the U.S. is not intending to remove the spy, the AP reported.
The CIA pulled its top spy out of Pakistan in December after the Pakistani papers printed his name. A Pakistani lawyer had mentioned the station chief’s name, blowing his cover and accusing him of killing civilians in covert drone strikes launched to target militants in the country’s lawless border area. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency is suspected of leaking the station chief’s name, a move it denies.
The raid that killed bin Laden, which was launched without Pakistani knowledge or permission, has embarrassed authorities there who have long claimed to have no knowledge of where bin Laden was hiding. In a scathing statement last week, Pakistan’s military chief demanded that Washington withdraw many of the U.S. military personnel stationed in Pakistan and warned that any new raids into the country would prompt a far-reaching reevaluation of Islamabad’s ties with Washington. Gen. Ashfaq Kayani’s statement also referenced Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, which he promised to fully defend against any potential American-led efforts to take control of the weapons.
Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani said in a speech to parliament on Monday that bin Laden's death was "justice done," but he added that Pakistan's inability to find him was "an intelligence failure ... not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies of the world," according to an AP translation.
Yet Gilani also defended Pakistan's intelligence agency, saying that "it is disingenuous for anyone to blame Pakistan or state institutions of Pakistan, including the ISI and the armed forces, for being in cahoots with al-Qaida."
Pakistan has come under intense criticism from its own citizens for not detecting the U.S. stealth helicopters and commandos that crossed the border and landed in Abbottabad, less than an hour from the capital. "Terrorists strike across the country with impunity; now it seems that external forces can also enter undetected," said an editorial printed on Sunday in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
Gilani praised the Pakistani military's response to the U.S. raid--even though the F-16 fighter jets were unable to stop U.S. forces leaving the country after the operation. "Our response demonstrates that our armed forces reacted, as was expected of them," Gilani said, but warned that further attacks would not be tolerated. "Unilateralism runs the inherent risk of serious consequences. ... Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate with full force. No one should underestimate the resolve and capability of our nation and armed forces to defend our sacred homeland."
The U.S., for its part, has maintained that Pakistan has made no official request for Washington to change the size and scope of its military presence in the country. Even so, President Obama, in an interview aired on Sunday, said that he thinks there “had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan.”
In a country rife with anti-American sentiment, the bin Laden mission has only exacerbated tensions that were long inflamed. Washington and Islamabad are fresh off the latest heated diplomatic standoff over a CIA contractor who fatally shot two Pakistanis in late January; after weeks of U.S. pressure, Raymond Davis was acquitted of murder charges. He was abruptly released after a deal was reached to pay “blood money” to the families of the victims in March. Protests over the Davis case and the CIA's presence ensued.
Beyond the Davis case, acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at the time that Pakistan was harassing American diplomats in other ways. Some American officials have reported in recent months having difficulties renewing visas and driver's licenses.