US-Pak ‘drone deal’ to skip anti-India camps

In a secret deal, Pakistan had allowed American drone strikes on its soil on the condition that these unmanned aircraft stay away from its nuclear facilities and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained by the ISI for terror attacks in India, according to a report in the New York Times on Sunday.
Under secret negotiations between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and America’s CIA during 2004, the terms of the bargain were set, the newspaper reported. “Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that drones fly only in narrow parts of the tribal areas — ensuring that they would not venture where Islamabad did not want the Americans going: Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India,” the paper said.
Pakistani officials also insisted they be allowed to vet each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets, the NYT said. The “secret deal” over drone strikes was reached after CIA agreed to kill tribal warlord Nek Muhammad, a Pakistani ally of the Afghan
Taliban who led a rebellion and was marked by Islamabad as an “enemy of the state”, the NYT reported, citing an excerpt from a book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, that will be published this week.
A CIA official met then ISI chief Ehsan ul Haq with the offer that if the US intelligence agency killed Muhammad, “would the ISI allow regular armed drone flights over the tribal areas”, the report said.
The ISI and CIA also agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the American agency’s “covert action authority”, which meant the US would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for individual killings or remain silent.
While Pakistani officials had earlier considered drone flights a violation of sovereignty, it was Muhammad’s rise to power that forced them to reconsider that stand and eventually allow Predator drones.
The ISI-CIA’s “backroom bargain” sheds light on the beginning of the covert drone war which “began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama”.
The deal resulted in the CIA changing its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped “transform an agency that began as a Cold War espionage service into a paramilitary organisation”.
After Muhammad’s killing in a drone strike, a Pakistani military spokesman told reporters “Al Qaeda facilitator” Nek Muhammad and four other “militants” were killed in a rocket attack by Pakistani troops, the newspaper said.
During the time when the negotiations were being held between the two spy agencies, then CIA inspector-general John Helgerson came out with a critical report on the abuse of detainees at the agency’s secret prisons.
Mr Helgerson’s report has been described as the single most important reason for the CIA’s shift from capturing to killing terrorism suspects. The CIA counterterrorism centre had earlier focused on capturing Al Qaeda operatives, interrogating them in its jails or outsourcing interrogations to the intelligence services of Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt, and using the information to hunt more terrorism suspects.
Mr Helgerson’s report raised questions about the interrogation methods like waterboarding and sleep deprivation, raising concerns that it violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
The Helgerson report “was the beginning of the end” for the CTC’s detention and interrogation programme. “The ground had shifted, and counterterrorism officials began to rethink the strategy for the secret war. Armed drones, and targeted killings in general, offered a new direction. Killing by remote control was the antithesis of the dirty, intimate work of interrogation.
“Targeted killings were cheered by Republicans and Democrats alike, and using drones flown by pilots who were stationed thousands of miles away made the whole strategy seem risk-free. Before long the CIA would go from being the long-term jailer of America’s enemies to a military organisation that erased them,” the NYT report said.

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