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Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence, and a Troubled Alliance, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The United States has long had a complex and at times difficult relationship with Pakistan. The regions of the Middle East and Southeast Asia have been of significant strategic importance for decades; as the world’s dependence on oil from the Middle East has exploded in the 20th and 21st centuries, the U.S. and other nations have jockeyed for positions of dominance in the region, involving themselves militarily and politically in the affairs of several nations in the region. In the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, the U.S. initiated military operations in Afghanistan and later, in Iraq, and relied on Pakistan as a partner in the U.S.’ declared “global war on terror.” Pakistan’s loyalty to the U.S. has never been complete, however; despite public pronouncements of support for U.S. efforts, the military and intelligence agencies in Pakistan have often operated against U.S. interests. Further, the government and the military have stoked anti-U.S. sentiment for decades, reaping the benefits of such sentiment both in terms of solidifying their power on the basis of resentment against the U.S. and in terms of convincing the U.S. to offer greater support to Pakistan under the guise of tamping down such resentment. Pakistani intelligence officials have engaged in operations against the U.S., and an atmosphere of mutual distrust remains between Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, and the U.S.’ CIA. Despite these issues, the U.S. and Pakistan continue to maintain ties of economic and military cooperation as each side attempts to maximize the potential benefits of such an arrangement. This paper will examine the recent history of the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan with an eye towards determining whether maintaining the current arrangement is in the best interests of the U.S.

Historical Overview

The primary intelligence agency in Pakistan is the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, commonly referred to as the ISI. The ISI has been involved in a wide range of activities on behalf of Pakistan, including offering support to anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and later, support for the post-Soviet Taliban government of that nation (Noor, 2006, 9). This relationship with the Taliban and other forces the U.S would later identify as enemy combatants has led to a number of contentious issues between U.S. and Pakistani leadership and their respective intelligence-gathering efforts. In order to adequately address the contemporary relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan it is helpful to examine the history between the two nations over the last several decades to shed light on the circumstances and issues that underpin the current relationship and the problems that exist now.

While the events of 9/11 caused fundamental shifts to U.S involvement in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the roots of the current relationship with Pakistan stretch back decades. In the 1980s, during the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, one of the U.S.’ primary concerns in the region was the military action the Soviet Union was undertaking in Afghanistan (Haqqani, 2005, 288). The U.S. was further concerned with the possibility of Iran and Syria posing problems for Israel, and the understandable concerns about nuclear proliferation in any of the nations in the region. In this period, the U.S. made a number of sometimes-contradictory decisions, such as offering various means of support to both sides in the Iraq-Iran war. During this period the U.S. also sought to cultivate and solidify ties with Pakistan, believing that such ties could help stabilize the contentious relationship between Pakistan and India and also help to keep the Middle East stable and allies such as Israel safe.

During the administrations of Ronald Reagan and later, George H.W. Bush, the U.S. offered economic and military support to Pakistan, while also supporting diplomatic efforts to keep nuclear weapons from proliferation in Pakistan and throughout the region (Haqqani, 2005, 289). Such support has always been difficult, involving a delicate balance of diplomacy and the potential threat of sanctions or other forms of relation. Both India and Pakistan were involved in efforts to develop nuclear weapons in this period, and some Pakistan officials made public pronouncements that Pakistan had indeed already managed to build nuclear weaponry (Khan, 2011, 131). Such declarations were publicly denied by Pakistani leaders, however, and both Reagan and Bush continued to certify that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons up to the year 1990.

By mid-1990 it was the U.S. Congress, not President Bush, which pushed for the effort to cease certifying that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons unless and until inspectors could verify the situation (Fair, 2010, 152). President Bush publicly pronounced that he was “sad” to have to admit that the U.S. could no longer verify that Pakistan did not have nuclear capabilities, and made it clear that the U.S. had no choice but to take some form of action against Pakistan in response to the changes in that nation’s status as a non-nuclear state (Haqqani, 2005, 289). U.S. intelligence agencies such as the CIA attempted to verify whether or not Pakistan had developed nuclear weapons, but were countered by disinformation campaigns by the ISI and by other efforts undertaken by the Pakistani military and government. In response to the shifting circumstances in Pakistan the U.S. cut aid to the nation by several hundred million dollars.

Despite the seeming significance of such cuts, the U.S. actually continued to provide roughly a billion dollars annually during the administration of Bush I (Haqqani, 2005, 285). Political reality dictated that pulling all support from Pakistan could destabilize the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan and ultimately threaten the stability of the region. The cuts were, at least to a degree, as much a political face-saving move as they were actual efforts to alter Pakistan’s behavior; the likelihood that Pakistan would abandon its nuclear program were more or less nonexistent. Throughout the term of Bush I and later, President Bill Clinton, the relationship between the two nations would continue to take the form of this delicate balance between political reality and public posturing.

The Pakistani government has long had reason to stoke anti-U.S. sentiment. On the domestic front, resentment against foreign power and interests has allowed the government and the military to consolidate and maintain power. In terms of foreign policy, such anti-U.S. sentiment has been used as the basis for arguing for greater U.S. support, easing of sanctions, and other such concessions by the United States (Jetly, 2009, n.p.). Pakistan is not the only nation in the region to play both sides of the political fence, of course; nations throughout the region have and continue to use such tactics to shore up their domestic support and squeeze the U.S. for foreign aid and other benefits. This has become particularly troublesome for the U.S. both domestically and in terms of foreign policy in the post-9/11 world.

9/11 and the War on Terror

Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. under the leadership of George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Ostensibly intended to rout the Taliban leadership from Afghanistan, the operation soon became part of a larger global strategy to combat terrorism, while having the practical effect of ramping up U.S. involvement in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The U.S. sought the support of Pakistan in its Afghanistan operations and in its larger “global war on terror,” support which has not always been as forthcoming as the U.S would have liked (Rollins, 2010, 9). While Pakistan has declared itself an ally in the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and in its war on terror, the reality is that many Pakistanis continue to resent the U.S. and the nation has provided refuge and support to members of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and what the U.S. labels “foreign extremists” (Rollins, 2010, 9).

The CIA and other U.S. intelligence services have, since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, insisted that many members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda simply slipped across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan when the U.S. invasion began, and were given refuge and support in several areas in Pakistan (Bergen, 2012, n.p.). Further, according to U.S. intelligence agents, the Pakistani military and government have been complicit in offering such support, despite their routine denials and declarations that they resent such charges (Fair, 2010, 153). Within weeks of the start of the Afghanistan invasion, U.S. officials made it clear that they believed Osama bin Laden, who had been named the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was hiding in Pakistan, and that it would have been virtually impossible for him to remain there for long without the knowledge and support of the Pakistani military and government. U.S. officials believed that the ISI and other Pakistani intelligence officials hid information about bin Laden’s whereabouts while continuing to make public declarations of support for the U.S. (Bergen, 2012).

Contemporary Issues

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and later Iraq, only served to heighten the anti-U.S. sentiment of many Pakistanis, setting the stage for mounting tensions between U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies. While Pakistan has publicly declared its support for the U.S.’ anti-terrorist activities, and allowed the CIA and the U.S. military to operate in remote regions of Western Pakistan in an effort to root out members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the ISI and the CIA have often been at odds with each other (Goldman and Apuzzo, 2010, n.p.). The CIA has taken pains to keep many of its activities in the region secretive, while the ISI has attempted on numerous occasions to infiltrate the CIA operations. In one instance, a man claiming to have inside information about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program approached the CIA and offered to work as a spy for that agency. The CIA suspected that this man was actually operating on behalf of the ISI, and contacted ISI officials to discuss the matter. The ISI never acknowledged this counter-espionage effort or admitted that this man was an ISI agent, and the matter was soon dropped (Goldman and Apuzzo, 2010).

The ultimate counter-intelligence operation the U.S. conducted against Pakistan was, of course, when it discovered the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Though the U.S. had publicly claimed to believe that bin Laden was hiding in a remote region of Pakistan, it turned out that he was living in a residential neighborhood a short distance from a major Pakistani military academy. The U.S. operation to capture or kill bin Laden was undertaken without the knowledge or approval of Pakistan (Bergen, 2012, n.p.). This placed both Pakistan and the U.S. in a difficult position, as it seemed unlikely, or even impossible, that bin Laden could have been living where he was without the knowledge and consent of the Pakistanis. Despite protestations on the part of the Pakistani government for what it claimed was a violation of its sovereignty, the U.S. operation that ended in the death of bin Laden did not lead to an end of the tenuous relationship between the two nations.

The Future Relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan

In practical terms, both sides of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship derive certain benefits and pay certain penalties for maintaining this partnership. Pakistan continues to offer some measure of support for U.S. activities in the region in exchange for economic and military support, Fair describes this as a “transactional” (2010, 153) relationship, one that exists not because of true political alliance, but only because of mutual benefits. While a theoretical argument could be made that the U.S should withdraw support from Pakistan and cut off ties with the nation based on the circumstances surrounding bin Laden, intelligence gathering, and other anti-U.S. actions, such a move would not be viable in practical terms. Pakistan may not qualify as a true ally of the U.S., but the benefits derived from the relationship between the U.S. far outweigh the potential costs to the U.S. of pulling support from Pakistan, a move that would surely stoke the fires of anti-U.S. sentiment even higher and potentially destabilize the nation and the region.

Bibliography

Bergen, Peter L. Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012.

Fair, C C., Project Air Force (U.S.), Rand Corporation, and United States. Pakistan: Can the United States secure an insecure state?. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2010.

Goldman, A, and M. Apuzzo. “CIA and Pakistan locked in counter-intelligence struggle.” Taipei Times/Associated Press (Taipei), July 7, 2010.

Ḥaqqānī, H, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Pakistan: Between mosque and military. Washington, D.C: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005.

Jetly, R. Pakistan in Regional and Global Politics. London, UK: Routledge, 2009.

Khan, Z A. “Development in Indo-Israel Defence Relations Since 9/11: Pakistan’s Security Concern and Policy Options.” South Asian Studies 26, no. 1 (2011): 131-151.

Noor, F A. “How Washington’s ‘War on Terror’ Became Everyone’s: Islamophobia and the Impact of September 11 on the Political Terrain of South and Southeast Asia.” Human Architecture 5, no. 1 (2006): 29-50.

Rollins, J, Library of Congress, and Federation of American Scientists. Al Qaeda and affiliates: Historical perspective, global presence, and implications for U.S. policy. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2010.

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