Inside the secret U.S.- Pakistan meeting in Oman

A host of top U.S. military officials held a secret day-long meeting with Pakistan’s top military officers on Tuesday in Oman to plot a course out of the diplomatic crisis that threatens the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

The United States was represented by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Adm. Eric Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, Stars and Stripes reported. The Pakistani delegation included Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, and Maj. Gen. Javed Iqbal, director general of military operations.

The meeting was planned long ago and covered various aspects of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, but a large portion was dedicated to the diplomatic crisis surrounding Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, last month after fatally shooting two armed Pakistani men.

“Where do you go to think seriously and bring sanity to a maddening situation? Far from the madding crowd to a peaceful Omani luxury resort of course. So that’s what the military leadership of the US and Pakistan did,” wrote Gen. Jehangir Karamat in a read out of the meeting obtained by The Cable and confirmed by a senior Pakistani official. Karamat is a former chief of Pakistan’s army, and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2004.

“The US had to point out that once beyond a tipping point the situation would be taken over by political forces that could not be controlled,” Karamat wrote about the meeting, referring to the reported split between the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) that erupted following the Davis shooting.

In Oman U.S. officials implored the Pakistani military to step up its involvement in the Davis case, following the Pakistani government’s decision to pass the buck to the judicial system on adjudicating Davis’ claim of diplomatic immunity. However, their concerns also went beyond this most recent diplomatic spat.

“[T]he US did not want the US-Pakistan relationship to go into a free fall under media and domestic pressures,” Karamat wrote. “These considerations drove it to ask the [Pakistani] Generals to step in and do what the governments were failing to do-especially because the US military was at a critical stage in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the key to control and resolution.”

“The militaries will now brief and guide their civilian masters and hopefully bring about a qualitative change in the US-Pakistan Relationship by arresting the downhill descent and moving it in the right direction.”

A senior Pakistani official confirmed the accuracy of Karamat’s analysis to The Cable. The official said that the Davis incident would hopefully now be put on a path toward resolution following a feeding frenzy in the Pakistani media, which has reported on rumors of an extensive network of CIA contract spies operating outside of the Pakistani government’s or the ISI’s knowledge.

“The idea is to find a solution whereby the Davis incident does not hijack the U.S.-Pakistan relationship,” the official said. The most probable outcome, the official explained, is that Davis would be turned over to the United States, following a promise from the U.S. government to investigate the incident.

The United States would also compensate the families of the two Pakistani men killed by Davis, and a third man who died after two other U.S. embassy personnel ran him over while racing to the scene of the shooting. Negotiations between U.S. officials and the family members are already underway, the official said.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, said that it was the responsibility of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, led until recently by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, to resolve the Davis case. Qureshi was removed as Foreign Minister after reportedly refusing to go along with the government’s plan to grant Davis immunity.

“It’s really the Foreign Ministry’s responsibility,” said Nawaz, “But in the absence of action by the civilian government, if the military can help persuade them to resolve this matter and find the way, that’s all for the better.”

But once the Davis case is resolved, there’s still much work to be done in repairing the relationship between the CIA and the ISI. The ISI is widely suspected of airing its anger with the CIA in both the Pakistani and U.S. media. The latest example was Wednesday’s Associated Press story that featured a never-before released ISI “statement” that said the Davis case was putting the entire ISI-CIA relationship in jeopardy.

The CIA and the ISI are talking, the Pakistani official said, but the path toward reconciliation will be a long one.

“It’s a spy game being played out in the media and the CIA has told the ISI to cut it out,” the official said. “The relationship remains testy. But after the meeting between Mullen and Kayani the likelihood of some resolution has increased.”

Inside the Pakistani government, the Davis case has exacerbated internal tensions between the civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, and the ISI. Pakistani news agencies have been reporting that the Pakistani embassy in Washington has approved hundreds of visas for American officials without proper vetting, increasing the ease with which covert CIA operatives could enter the country.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani has denied that any visas had been issued from his embassy without proper authorization. An analysis of Pakistani visas granted to U.S. government employees, conducted by the Pakistani government, shows there has been no significant increase in the number of visas issued since 2007.

Regardless, the gentlemen’s agreement between the ISI and the CIA that the two organizations would keep each other informed on each other’s actions in Pakistan has now broken down.

“It’s a vicious circle. Davis was in Pakistan because Pakistan can’t be trusted. But Davis getting caught has increased the mistrust,” the Pakistani official said. “Their interests are no longer congruent. Eventually the ISI and the CIA will have to work out new rules of engagement.”

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