Al Qaida’s 2011 kidnapping in Pakistan of U.S. civilian aid contractor Warren Weinstein, which ended in January when Weinstein was inadvertently killed by a U.S. drone strike, was the byproduct of a three-year turf war between the CIA and Pakistani security services over the American agency’s use of U.S.-funded humanitarian organizations as cover for unauthorized spying in Pakistan, security analysts said Friday.
Weinstein’s death and that of Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, announced Thursday by the White House, have triggered an investigation into the CIA’s use of drones, in part because it highlights what critics have long claimed, that drone pilots often don’t know who they will kill when they fire their weapons.
But the start of Weinstein’s final saga also lies in controversy over the CIA, Pakistani analysts say.
Weinstein and Lo Porto were kidnapped in August 2011 and January 2012, respectively – Weinstein, on the day he was due to depart Pakistan, and Lo Porto three days after his arrival, suggesting that the kidnappers had knowledge of their movements, possibly obtained from sympathetic civil servants.
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The kidnappings came amid huge tensions between former President Asif Ali Zardari’s administration and the powerful Pakistani military over a $7.5 billion, five-year U.S. civilian aid program.
Pakistan’s then ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, a moving force behind the massive aid package, was denounced in Pakistan media for allegedly issuing visas to thousands of “CIA spies” – the term used for American aid workers.
“There’s no doubt that the xenophobic propaganda about foreigners that followed the increase in U.S. aid for social sectors has made life for foreigners tougher in Pakistan. The military establishment and jihadis have constantly lied about aid workers being spies,” Haqqani, now a director at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said Friday.
“The jihadis resorted to hostage-taking to raise funds, scare foreigners and Pakistani liberals, as well as insurances against drone strikes,” he said.
Similar campaigns have been used to cast Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai as a puppet of the West and to prevent the government from making concessions to India, Pakistan’s neighboring enemy, the analysts said.
The U.S. law that established the aid program envisioned most of the aid being channeled through U.S. non-government organizations. But the Pakistani military opposed that formula because it suspected the CIA would use the program to place operatives in the country, without the knowledge of Pakistan’s premier security agency, the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, analysts said.
The kidnappings of Weinstein and Lo Porto were fallout from CIA operations that were exposed, the analysts said.
“The context in those days was an apparent turf war between the CIA and ISI,” said Imtiaz Gul, executive director for the Center for Research and Security Studies, an independent Islamabad think tank. “Both were extremely suspicious of each other – that’s why many (Pakistan-based) observers interpreted the abductions as the fallout of a turf war that went on from 2010 to 2012.”
In 2010, the CIA station chief, Jonathan Bank, had to leave Pakistan after his name was leaked to an English-language newspaper, apparently by the ISI. That came after two suspected CIA operatives posing as officials of the United Nation’s International Organization for Migration were killed in Peshawar in an incident that has yet to be publicly revealed.
The CIA’s covert operations in Pakistan were publicly exposed in January 2011 when Raymond Davis, a former U.S. soldier under contract to the CIA and based at the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Lahore, shot dead two Pakistanis in broad daylight. A third Pakistani was killed when a consulate SUV rushing to aid Davis veered across the street.
Even though Davis was assigned to the consulate, he had not been granted diplomatic immunity, and Pakistani authorities charged him with murder. The charges were dropped after relatives of the dead men accepted $1.2 million in blood money, a provision of Islamic law incorporated into Pakistani laws, and he was flown to Afghanistan in March 2011.
But the incident revealed the extent of CIA operations in Pakistan and “reinformed suspicions,” said Gul, the author of several books on security and terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Another CIA operative, Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, was arrested in May 2011 shortly after U.S. Navy SEALs killed al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a raid on a house in Abbottabad, a garrison town two hours’ drive from Islamabad.
Posing as a manager for the British charity Save the Children, Afridi had gathered DNA samples under the guise of conducting an immunization campaign. U.S. officials had hoped to use DNA evidence to confirm that bin Laden was a resident of the Abbottabad house. The operation failed, but its revelation further enraged Pakistan, which was reeling from the bin Laden raid.
That’s when attention shifted to other aid workers. Weinstein had worked for seven years as Pakistan country chief for J.E. Austin Associates and piloted the creation of public-private companies to develop the dairy, granite and marble, and gems and jewelry sectors of Pakistan’s struggling economy. He was ending his assignment when he was kidnapped three months later.