The South Asia Channel

Slipping out the back door?

Ever since Richard Armitage’s infamous "Stone Age" ultimatum swayed the Pakistani government in favor of cutting ties with the Taliban and allying with the United States in the "war on terror," the performance of Islamabad’s military and intelligence agencies has typically wavered somewhere between halfhearted and straight-up duplicitous. But things have begun to change, and ...

Ever since Richard Armitage's infamous "Stone Age" ultimatum swayed the Pakistani government in favor of cutting ties with the Taliban and allying with the United States in the "war on terror," the performance of Islamabad's military and intelligence agencies has typically wavered somewhere between halfhearted and straight-up duplicitous. But things have begun to change, and if Pakistan's response to Faisal Shahzad's failed car bombing in Times Square is any indication, relations between the CIA and Pakistan's top intelligence agency, the ISI, haven't been this congenial since the glory days of fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.

Take, for example, the CIA's drone program. The recent success of that program owes as much to the well-placed moles working for the ISI in North and South Waziristan as it does to the gamers pushing buttons in Langley. Then, earlier this year, the ISI and the CIA conducted a joint operation and arrested Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's military commander; weeks later, two of the Afghan Taliban's "shadow governors" were also arrested in Pakistan. Now, the ISI is rounding up Shahzad's associates, including the individual who apparently drove with Shahzad from Karachi to Peshawar -- and possibly on to North Waziristan.

What do all these arrests mean? Has Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's military chief, ordered his underlings in the various intelligence agencies to put their professionalism to good use, rather than dedicating their efforts to smearing politicians and rigging elections?

Ever since Richard Armitage’s infamous "Stone Age" ultimatum swayed the Pakistani government in favor of cutting ties with the Taliban and allying with the United States in the "war on terror," the performance of Islamabad’s military and intelligence agencies has typically wavered somewhere between halfhearted and straight-up duplicitous. But things have begun to change, and if Pakistan’s response to Faisal Shahzad’s failed car bombing in Times Square is any indication, relations between the CIA and Pakistan’s top intelligence agency, the ISI, haven’t been this congenial since the glory days of fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.

Take, for example, the CIA’s drone program. The recent success of that program owes as much to the well-placed moles working for the ISI in North and South Waziristan as it does to the gamers pushing buttons in Langley. Then, earlier this year, the ISI and the CIA conducted a joint operation and arrested Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s military commander; weeks later, two of the Afghan Taliban’s "shadow governors" were also arrested in Pakistan. Now, the ISI is rounding up Shahzad’s associates, including the individual who apparently drove with Shahzad from Karachi to Peshawar — and possibly on to North Waziristan.

What do all these arrests mean? Has Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s military chief, ordered his underlings in the various intelligence agencies to put their professionalism to good use, rather than dedicating their efforts to smearing politicians and rigging elections?

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. High-profile arrests have happened before, of course, ending with ignominious results. In December 2007, the alleged mastermind of the 2006 transatlantic bomb plot, Rashid Rauf, escaped from police custody by telling his handlers that he needed to pray — and then disappearing out the back door. (Rauf is thought to be hiding out somewhere in North Waziristan.) Whether Faisal Shahzad’s associates similarly slip out the back door remains to be seen. But there does seem to be a qualitative shift in Pakistan’s behavior lately. And Pakistan’s cooperation is necessary if investigators are going to unearth the roots of Faisal Shahzad’s criminal conspiracy.

Nicholas Schmidle is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan.

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