By S. M. Hali

Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s visit to the US has evoked more interest and comments than the visit of any other official. This is a sad reality, coming in the backdrop of deteriorating relations between the erstwhile allies in the war on terror. Normally the meetings between heads of strategic organizations are shrouded in mystery as they comprise the cloak and dagger stuff. Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the USA have been allies but became estranged in the last fifteen months or so. In fact the media bashing by both Langley (CIA HQs) and Aabpara (ISI HQs) through the media were reminiscent of the ‘Spy vs. Spy’ comic strip by Antonio Prohias in the Mad magazine highlighting the rivalry between the KGB and CIA at the peak of the Cold War.

Raymond Davis fiasco last year, followed by the May 2 attack to eliminate Osama bin Laden and the November 26 assault by US forces on Salala, a Pakistan Army check-post, resulting in the loss of 25 Pakistan Army personnel, spiraled the Pak–US ties to their lowest ebb. President Zardari’s nominal presence at the Chicago Afghan peace conference did not help improve relations but Pakistan’s strategic decision to open the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) leading eventually to the DG ISI’s visit to Washington worked as a panacea bringing a significant thaw in Pak-US relations. The visit also frustrated the detractors of Pakistan, ruining their machinations to create a negative impact on the outcome of the visit. Pessimistic media speculations however, led to misperceptions among the domestic masses.  

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Some quarters inferred that the visit was likely to result in a stalemate, given the nationalists’ pledges and assertions. It was envisaged that the DG ISI’s Washington yatra will end up conceding to all US demands. A whispering campaign worked as fodder for the rumour mill among the general masses that Pakistan was going to launch an operation in North Waziristan (NW) under US duress. It was also envisaged that a deal has been struck with US/CIA for undertaking a Joint Operation codenamed “Tight Screw” in which boots on grounds have been accepted. The grist mill asserted that Pakistani demands on the core issue of drone attacks in FATA have been overruled by US counterpart and that Pakistan has not been able to convince US authorities to end drone bombings, or hand over drone technology to Pakistan or share target intelligence with Pakistan for engaging through PAF assets.

The situation reached a head thus Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan, during his weekly briefing had to quash rumours regarding the efficacy of the visit. He stated that Pakistan and US are deliberating on proposals to further enhance bilateral ties. Moazzam Khan termed the visit of DG ISI to US as productive and declared that both the countries were looking forward to take measures to improve bilateral relations. Pakistan and United States are discussing several proposals to bring their relationship back on track. He, however, refrained from sharing specific details at this stage.

Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam, as compared to his predecessor, Lieutenant General Pasha, is more low-key. Pasha had weathered many a storm but considering that it was General Zaheer’s maiden yatra to Washington as DG ISI, his performance is not counterproductive, as being made out by certain sections of the Press. Zaheer had the full backing of the civil and military leadership and that must have stood him in good stance while dealing with his CIA counterpart, the wily General Petraeus, who is a veteran of the Afghan War and adept at spinning webs. Sources privy to the meetings, claim that  there is no deal between Pakistan and US to undertake operation codenamed “Tight Screw” in which boots on ground have been accepted by Pakistan, thus allowing foreign troops to operate inside Pakistan. Reportedly, Zaheer held his own in projecting Pakistan’s numerous sacrifices in fighting the war on terrorism and sought acknowledgement for the sacrifices. He also demanded that  drone attacks in FATA should be abandoned or drone technology be handed over to Pakistan, as incessant drone attacks were fueling anti US feelings in FATA/Pakistan. A common misperception, which is being played by the international media, is that Pakistan supports Haqqani Network for their operations inside Afghanistan. Pakistan has always denied using Haqqanis as the surrogate/proxy warriors against US led NATO forces in Afghanistan instead it seeks the termination of the TTP led attacks, which continue to wreak havoc within Pakistan.