US Agents Detained Pakistanis In Peshawar ConsulateApril 23, 2010
Syed Fawad Ali Shah
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan–Private US defense contractors held Pakistani and Afghan citizens kidnapped from Pakistani tribal territory inside the building of the US Consulate in Peshawar when it was attacked by armed men on April 5.
Immediately after the attack, US diplomats and employees in the consulate were shifted to the American-run Khyber Club in the University Town suburb of Peshawar. US military and intelligence personnel moved the detained Pakistanis and Afghans to Islamabad, either to the US Embassy building or to one of its several safe houses in the Pakistani capital.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The group has been attacking Chinese, Sri Lankan and Pakistani citizens during the past five years. This was a rare attack against US interests by the group.
Sources in several Pakistani security agencies in Peshawar knew of US activities and considered them part of US help to Pakistan to fight terrorists. But it is not clear if US personnel had the authority to nab Pakistani citizens or any other nationals on Pakistani soil.
US private security contractors maintain a spy network in Pakistan’s tribal belt, first allowed by former President Musharraf but expanded during the two years of President Zardari’s government.
US agents are on the lookout for leads to Afghan Taliban contacts. But in recent months they have developed a new enmity with the Pakistani Taliban, which spared the Americans during the past five years.
The shift in Pakistani Taliban’s position took place after the Pakistani military forced the US to end the CIA practice of sparing Pakistani Taliban targets using its unmanned drones. The final blow was the attack against a CIA base in Khost near the Pakistani border for which Pakistani Taliban took responsibility. It was the first attack by Pakistani Taliban groups against the US. Until then, CIA agents and other third country intelligence operatives have been in contact with the Pakistani Taliban for the past five years, considering the group a possible silent partner inside Pakistani territory.
Peshawar is also one city in Pakistan where US is expanding its presence. According to sources close to the ANP, the ruling party in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the provincial government has allowed US government and military special facilities at the Peshawar international airport where US cargo and personnel can enter and exit the country with minimal interference from Pakistani civil aviation and security authorities.
The move seems to undercut a decision taken by Pakistani security officials in the federal government to end similar concessions given to Washington by former President Musharraf. These concessions were quietly withdrawn in summer 2009. At the time instructions were also given to the Pakistan Foreign Office to inform the US Embassy in Islamabad that all US cargo into Pakistan must enter through the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad and not through any of the four provincial capitals: Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi and Lahore.
All the three coalition partners in the federal government – PPPP, ANP and MQM – maintain close and direct ties with Washington.