Pakistan swoops on CIA's Bin Laden 'informers'
PAKISTAN'S most powerful intelligence agency is interrogating at least five Pakistanis on suspicions of collusion with the CIA in the months leading up to the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a garrison town just two hours from the capital Islamabad.
The 'New York Times' reported that the arrested men included a serving Pakistani army major -- a claim that the Pakistani military fiercely denied yesterday.
It is unclear how many are being held. A Pakistani army officer said that 30 to 40 civilians had been questioned in recent days, with some released on Tuesday.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates suggested that reports of alleged informants being taken into custody by Pakistan would hardly surprise him. This was the "real world we deal with", he said when asked about the arrests.
"Most governments lie to each other, sometimes arrest people and sometimes spy on us," he added. He stopped short of confirming that the arrests had taken place.
The arrests represent the latest attempt by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to shut down what it sees as unauthorised CIA operations on its soil.
The ISI was "trying to lay down the rule that the CIA does not operate independently in Pakistan", said a senior Pakistani official.
CIA chief Leon Panetta raised concerns about the arrests last Friday when he met ISI chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha and army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Mr Panetta had flown into Islamabad on his final visit before he takes charge as defence secretary for talks on the strained relationship between the two spy agencies.
Mr Panetta also confronted Gen Pasha with evidence of suspected collusion between elements within the ISI and pro-Afghan Taliban militants.
Satellite video images taken by the CIA show militants fleeing two bomb-making factories in North and South Waziristan within 24 hours of the CIA passing on their locations.
The latest CIA-ISI troubles come against the backdrop of Pakistan's security establishment suffering a series of unprecedented humiliations over the past six weeks.
At the same time, opposition politicians, civil society campaigners and journalists have subjected the feared top generals to unprecedented criticism.
There is also pressure coming from the middle ranks of the army, who are angered by what they see as US aggression against Pakistan.
"In the top ranks there are real concerns about whether soldiers will obey orders in some circumstances," said a senior Western diplomat.
By being seen to stand up to the US, the military establishment hopes to unburden itself of the piling pressure.
In the case of the major, if true, Gen Pasha would see his involvement as "straightforward treason", the diplomat said.
The CIA's independent operations in Pakistan were authorised by US President Barack Obama soon after coming to office.
Exhausted by what is seen as Pakistan's "double game", presenting itself as an ally while colluding with the pro-Afghan Taliban militants, Mr Obama ordered the CIA to shed its reliance on the ISI. (© Independent News Service)