Pakistan denies Fai linked with ISI, says his arrest is in response to Islamabad’s refusal to set free CIA operative Dr Shakil Afridi
Pakistan strongly denied on Wednesday any links between the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, the Kashmiri leader arrested in the United States, saying it seemed to be an act of retaliation by the US in response to Islamabad’s refusal to set free Dr Shakil Afridi, a local physician arrested in the wake of the May 2 Abbottabad operation on charges of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Pakistani officials here said another reason for Dr Fai’s arrest was to please India, evident from the timing chosen for it: the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India. They said it was also a clear message for Islamabad that it needed to bring flexibility in its stance and accept the demands of the US.
The arrest of Dr Fai, a famous Kashmiri activist in the US capital, was made after the damage-control visit by ISI chief Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha to Washington. After Pasha’s visit, officials from Islamabad and Washington said some of the damage done to the Pak-US ties had been repaired and the rest would be fixed in follow-up discussions between the senior civilian and military officials from both sides in the days to come.
The Obama administration also decided to send its top military official, Admiral Mike Mullen, to Islamabad as part of the damage-control exercise, but with the arrest of Dr Fai and the allegations against the ISI of giving $4 million to the Kashmiri leader for years to lobby for the Kashmir issue, that crucial trip by Mullen slated for July 24 could also be postponed. However, the US administration did dispatch its top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to Islamabad on Wednesday to hold talks with Pasha and army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on breaking the deadlock over cooperation with the ISI. The Foreign Office kept mum over the vital issue of Dr Fai and there was no statement by its spokeswoman throughout the day on Wednesday. Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Lt General Athar Abbas also declined to comment on the issue. Nonetheless, another senior security official here, who asked not to be named, said the accusations against the ISI of having links with Dr Fai and paying him huge sums of money were completely false.
“We believe that Dr Fai has been arrested in retaliation to Pakistan’s refusal to release Dr Shakil Afridi, who was arrested in the wake of Abbottabad operation on charges of working for the CIA,” he said. “They (Americans) say that Dr Fai was being kept under observation for years so it is questionable why now has he been arrested. It’s the timing that matters. Lt General Pasha went to Washington where US officials demanded the release of Afridi. Lt General Pasha refused and the Americans decided to arrest Dr Fai on charges of working as an operative for the ISI,” he added.
A Pakistani diplomat, who wished to remain unnamed, said: “Another important reason of this American act to arrest Fai was to please the Indians. Dr Fai is the most despised Kashmiri leader in India, since despite being someone with origins from Indian-Held Kashmir he has been struggling for the cause of Kashmiris in the US very effectively for years.”
“What better timing than Hillary Clinton’s visit to India to go for the arrest of Dr Fai? In addition to that, it’s also a clear message for Islamabad and the Pakistan Army to bring flexibility in their stance and accept the US demands, otherwise such actions could be taken in future as well,” he added. He said Dr Fai’s arrest, and especially the allegations against the ISI, could further harm the already strained Pak-US ties and the objective of the restoration of full counter-terrorism cooperation could not be achieved.
He said it was strange that whenever there were efforts to improve Pak-US relations, a new controversy was given birth to in Washington, a fact that showed that some elements in the ruling circles in the US did not want improvement in relations between the two countries.