U.S. Wary of Pakistani Appeal for More Cooperation

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bush administration officials have responded with skepticism to an appeal by visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani for increased intelligence cooperation, which he said would help his country attack militant groups and terrorist encampments near its border with Afghanistan.

"The problem from our perspective has not been an absence of information going into the Pakistani government," said one Bush administration official familiar with discussions this week between the two governments. "It's an absence of action."

Both governments stressed that their meetings have been cordial, and public statements underlined a shared commitment to counterterrorism. President Bush, in an appearance with Gillani after a White House meeting Monday, twice noted U.S. respect for Pakistani sovereignty. In an interview yesterday, Gillani emphasized Pakistan's desire "to maintain excellent relations with the United States."

But beneath the surface pleasantries and what the administration official called "a desire to make this a nonconfrontational meeting," there was little indication that tensions over their respective contributions to the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban had eased.

The differences were illustrated Monday when a U.S. missile, believed to have been fired by a CIA-operated Predator drone, killed seven people in Pakistan hours before Bush and Gillani met. U.S. officials said they thought the target, al-Qaeda operative Abu Khabab al-Masri, was killed, although U.S. and Pakistani officials said yesterday they were still seeking confirmation.

A Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said yesterday that U.S. officials had not notified Islamabad before the attack. "There was no information from their side," he said. "They have struck like this many times. We are trying to convince them to share information."

Both the U.S. military and the CIA operate unmanned Predator aircraft in the region. But the military, whose Predators are based at the Bagram base north of Kabul, maintains some level of coordination with Pakistani military liaisons at the base.

Although the CIA maintains close ties with its Pakistani counterpart, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, the relationship has long been tinged with U.S. suspicion of ISI links with extremists. CIA distrust of the ISI has increased in recent months, particularly within the CIA operations directorate, a U.S. official said.

Gillani said such attacks violate Pakistani sovereignty, and noted that "we don't have the sophisticated weapons -- Predators or others." If Pakistan had the capacity and the information, he said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters yesterday, "then we can hit [such targets] ourselves. Otherwise, it's a violation and nobody [in Pakistan] will like it."

Specific requests, Gillani said, include devices to intercept and block radio transmissions between extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With them, he said, 80 percent of cross-border infiltrations would be stopped. "It won't cost much, but we don't have the gadgets," he said.

Pakistan has been under U.S. pressure to step up efforts against extremists in its North-West Frontier and tribal areas along the borders. The four-month-old coalition government argues that it has made costly contributions to the counterterrorism fight, from the loss of nearly 1,000 soldiers killed since 2001 to the terrorist assassination last year of political leader Benazir Bhutto. Thirty Pakistani soldiers reportedly were taken hostage yesterday in fighting that ensued after insurgents overran a checkpoint in the Swat Valley near the Afghan border.

His strategy for the border regions, Gillani said, includes talks with "nonmilitants . . . who throw down their arms and come into the mainstream," and addressing the "root cause" of extremism with economic aid. "But force is there," he said. "When all these things don't work, we have to have action."

Gillani met yesterday with Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Obama has said that, as president, he would authorize U.S. action inside Pakistan if there were firm intelligence on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Gillani declined to discuss their conversation.

A Pakistani official said that a telephone conversation with Republican candidate John McCain was on Gillani's schedule. He will also meet today with congressional leaders and with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Correspondent Candace Rondeaux in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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