Pak demands drastic cut in CIA and US agents on its soil

Washington: Pakistan has demanded a drastic cut in number of CIA agents and special forces personnel operating on its soil and a halt to drone strikes in the country`s restive northwest, in signs of near collapse of intelligence cooperation between the two nations.

The demand for scale back of its intelligence presence in Pakistan is the immediate fallout of a row between the two countries over the arrest of CIA officer Raymond Davis, New York Times reported.

Strangely, the Islamabad`s clamour is not coming from the civilian government but personally has been ordered by the country`s powerful Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the daily said quoting top US and Pakistani officials.

The Pakistani demand came as its intelligence chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha had four hours of meeting with the CIA Director Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here.

The meetings were described as "productive" by a CIA spokesman.

Though the spokesman Marie Harf said that the cooperation between the two agencies remained on "solid footing", the Pakistani General reportedly cut short his visit abruptly to return home.

Both the US and Pakistani officials did not give any reasons for Shuja curtailing his talks here.

Quoting Pakistani officials, NYT said that Kayani had asked for 25-40 per cent reductions in the number of US special operations troops in the country, most of whom are training the Paramilitary Frontier Corps in the troubled northwest region bordering Afghanistan, which is home to al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Pakistani officials say that about 335 American personnel – CIA operatives, contractors and special forces men – had been asked to leave Pakistan.

It is not clear how many CIA personnel that would be left behind as the total number of American officials in Pakistan has not been disclosed.

The officials said that the number also included removal of all US contractors used by CIA in Pakistan.

NYT citing US officials said that the demands appeared to be severe enough to badly hamper American efforts – either through ground strikes or military training for Pakistani forces – to combat militants who use the country as a base to fight US forces in Afghanistan or to plot terror strikes abroad.

"There were no ultimatum, no demand to remove tens of hundreds of Americans from Pakistan," said a US official after the round of meetings that Shuja had with American officials.

NYT said the Pakistani demands were coming as Islamabad believed that Washington`s real aim in Pakistan is to strip the nation of its prized nuclear arsenal, which is now on a path to becoming the world`s fifth largest.

It said that frustration was growing on American side over the Pakistan`s Army`s inability to defeat a host of militant groups including the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which have thrived in the country`s tribal areas despite more than a yearly USD 1 billion assistance to it.

In a rare public rebuke, a recent White House report to Congress described the Pakistani forces` efforts against the militants as disappointing.

The row over Raymond Davis erupted, the Times quoted US officials as saying as American officer was involved in covert operations to penetrate the militant group LeT, which has ties to Pakistan`s military and intelligence establishment.