By Baqir Sajjad Syed
ISLAMABAD: Leon Panetta, chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, left Islamabad on Saturday morning after a meeting with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI head Gen Shuja Pasha, but without a deal on resetting the relationship between the spy agencies.
Mr Panetta, who arrived on Friday evening, did not meet anyone other than the Kayani-Pasha duo who he met at the Army House over dinner and discussed what was described by the ISPR as “framework for future intelligence sharing”.
Mr Panetta’s departure without routine calls on President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was seen by observers here as a sign of stalemate in his discussions with the military leadership. According to sources, Mr Panetta was surprised by the rigidity shown by the military, which went to the extent of even declining an offer by Washington of security assistance.
But government officials insisted that unlike in the past this time he was not scheduled to meet anyone else.
While Gen Kayani had even before his visit made it clear that the Army would not allow the CIA to carry out independent operations and that any future intelligence cooperation would be reciprocal and transparent, Mr Panetta did little to pacify Pakistani generals and instead confronted them with “evidence of collusion with Taliban militants”.
This, a source claimed, would further sour the relationship which had already been under strain since the start of this year and got worse after the May 2 Abbottabd raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.
According to US media reports, Mr Panetta shared with the military leadership video and satellite imagery of militants leaving two bomb-making factories in Waziristan after allegedly having been tipped off about a raid.
The US reportedly shared the information with Pakistan last week, asking it to take action against the two sites. But Mr Panetta alleged at the meeting that the information was leaked within 24 hours of sharing and by the time the raiding teams reached those places, the militants had melted away.
A defense source said the CIA chief, who is set to take over as the next US defense secretary, reportedly used this as an instance to tell the army and intelligence chiefs why America distrusted Pakistani military establishment and needed to have its own independent operations inside the country to deal with Al Qaeda and Taliban.
Efforts to get a version from official sources in Islamabad did not bear fruit.
Mr Panetta, during his visit, reportedly tried to convince the Pakistanis to allow some critical CIA operations to continue after the agency was asked to cut down its footprint. He also asked for some CIA operatives to be given visas to enable them to enter the country and work independently.
Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha are reported to have insisted on joint operations and intelligence sharing, but no independent operations. They said that a recently-constituted joint task force for coordination of intelligence activities should be the nerve centre of any future ISI-CIA collaboration.
Reuters adds: The army and intelligence chiefs told Mr Panetta that they were not willing to reverse a decision to cut the number of US troops allowed in their country, Pakistani military officials said on Saturday.
“He (Panetta) expressed concern over the reduction of trainers and operatives. We told him very clearly ‘no boots on our soil is acceptable’,” said a military official.
“We told him (Panetta) that we are clear. We don’t want their people. Intelligence sharing is fine and we are ready for that,” said another military official. “Any action against the militants will be taken by our forces alone but we will share intelligence on militants actively.”
A US embassy spokesman said he had no information on Panetta’s talks.