The treacherous relationship between Pakistan’s intelligence agency and the CIA


American marines surrounding an injured Afghan man in Helmand province, 2010

How Pakistan has played a deadly game with the US.

There are no bigger victims to the clichés surrounding Afghanistan than the Afghans themselves. Tragically, the country is infested by glib non-truisms bandied around by foreigners, many of which help perpetuate the conflict rather than untangle it. That Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires” is the biggest lie of them all.

Until 1840 Afghanistan, repeatedly and easily overrun by invaders, was known more plausibly as the “highway of conquest”. Rather than being a graveyard of empires it is in fact the graveyard of the thousands of Afghans killed by empires, or by the interference of the country’s more powerful neighbours. Steve Coll was in a prime position to address the issue of regional interference in his latest book, Directorate S. The author rightly won a Pulitzer prize for Ghost Wars, which charted the CIA’s covert programmes in Afghanistan from the invasion of the Soviets in 1979 to the rise of Osama Bin Laden.

Directorate S, which takes over in 2001, is a sequel. Named after the department of Pakistan’s intelligence agency (the ISI) that oversaw operations – rivalling those of the CIA – in Afghanistan, the book was hoped to be the definitive account of all that followed as US policy in the country, so heavily driven by the interplay between intelligence agencies, veered from one crisis to the next. Yet this time the author has overextended himself, relying too much on the collation of documents by his researchers and less on his own analysis and reporting skills, which were such key ingredients of the success of Ghost Wars. The result is a disappointing, dense compilation of names and events in which key themes and evolving trends are often excluded, or smothered by a mass of raw detail. The reader is left wading through chapters, laden with the same question that has so often burdened foreign troops in Afghanistan: how did we end up here (and how do we get out)?

Some of the omissions are bizarre. Take the case of Humam al-Balawi, the Jordanian double agent who set up a meeting with his CIA handlers in December 2009 to brief them on a supposed intelligence breakthrough. Balawi, a doctor, claimed to have been appointed as the personal physician to Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, chief of al-Qaeda operations at the time and today the head of the organisation. This momentarily made Balawi one of the CIA’s highest-value sources in the region, and caused such excitement that the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, hurried to the White House and briefed President Obama in person.

Yet Balawi had double-crossed the Americans. When he arrived for the rendezvous at a small, heavily fortified CIA compound on Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan, he detonated a suicide vest, killing ten people, including five CIA officers. Among the dead was one of the agency’s top al-Qaeda specialists, Jennifer Matthews.

This cataclysmic counter-penetration was the heaviest single loss for the CIA in a quarter-century of operations. So …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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