By Jon Boone. This article was first published on The Guardian.
The political party led by the former cricket star Imran Khan claims to have blown the cover of the CIA‘s most senior officer in Pakistan as part of an increasingly high-stakes campaign against US drone strikes.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party named a man it claimed was head of the CIA station in Islamabad in a letter to police demanding he be nominated as one of the people responsible for a drone strike on 21 November, which killed five militants including senior commanders of the Haqqani Network.
John Brennan, the CIA director, was also nominated as an “accused person” for murder and “waging war against Pakistan”.
The US embassy said it could not comment but was looking into the matter. The CIA spokesman Dean Boyd would not confirm the station chief’s name and declined to immediately comment, AP reported.
If his identity is confirmed it will be the second time anti-drone campaigners have unmasked a top US spy in Pakistan.
In 2010 another CIA station chief, Jonathan Banks, was named in criminal proceedings initiated after a drone strike. Banks was forced to leave the country.
As with the Banks case, questions will be raised about how the PTI came to know the identity of the top US intelligence official in the country.
Although nearly all foreign spies in Pakistan use diplomatic cover stories to hide their occupation, many, including station chiefs, are declared to the country’s domestic spy agency.
The letter signed by the PTI spokeswoman Shireen Mazari demanded the named agent be prevented from leaving the country so that he could be arrested. The PTI said it hoped he would reveal “through interrogation” the names of the remote pilots who operated the drone.
“CIA station chief is not a diplomatic post, therefore he does not enjoy any diplomatic immunity and is within the bounds of domestic laws of Pakistan,” the letter said.
The accusation comes at a time when drones have once again become a matter of intense controversy in Pakistan.
The country’s interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar, denounced a drone strike in early November. Although the attack killed the much hated chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, Nisar said it had wrecked the government’s efforts to hold peace talks with militant groups.
And it infuriated Khan, who has built much of his political platform around opposition to drones, which he claims are largely responsible for the upsurge of domestic terrorism in Pakistan in recent years – a suggestion disputed by many experts.
The 21 November strike was even more provocative as it was one of the first ever strikes outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where nearly all attacks by the unmanned aircraft have taken place in the past.
The attack on a religious seminary associated with the Haqqani Network was in Hangu, an area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province where Khan’s PTI leads a coalition government.
Khan responded with a massive rally in the provincial capital of Peshawar and ordered PTI activists to block vehicles carrying supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan.
However, party workers have struggled to identify Nato cargo amid all the sealed containers plying the roads to Afghanistan. The exercise has received no support from the national government and the police have tried to stop PTI workers blocking lorries.