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The politics of a spy swap.

Byline: Imran Jan

One of the most suitable ways to stay cognisant of the truth in politics is to be a spy. Spy agencies know the truth while governments continue to befool their people. Such is the case with some of the latest developments in Pakistan-US-India relations. The story is convoluted yet simple if we only keep one movie and one book as our references: Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and The Killing of Osama Bin Laden by Seymour Hersh.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that he would get Shakil Afridi released. He said, 'Please be aware that it's at my heart and I know it's important and we can do that. We can achieve that outcome.' Pompeo was a spy chief until recently, he should know what the truth is. Hersh in his work revealed that there was no such thing as a courier who was tailed by the CIA resulting in finding the Abbottabad compound. What actually happened was that Jonathan Bank the CIA Islamabad station chief inside the US Embassy was approached by a former senior officer in the Pakistani intelligence with accurate information on the whereabouts of Bin Laden. The trade was for him to receive much of the $25 million reward.

The Americans approached Pakistan military chief Pervez Kayani and ISI director general Shuja Pasha with the verified intelligence about Bin Laden. The cooperation was achieved quickly with the commitment of continued military aid, much of which was anti-terrorism funding. Pasha pushed for the aid to continue and signed off on the plan to send in helicopters to Abbottabad. Kayani told the Americans, 'You have to come in lean and mean. And you have to kill him, or there is no deal.'

The ISI allowed a four-man American cell at Tarbela Ghazi for the raid. The cloak-and-dagger episode is one of the most fascinating ones. The most disturbing revelation that Hersh makes is that before the Abbottabad raid, when the US and Pakistani spies were working out the details, it was none other than the CIA that told the ISI to arrest Shakil Afridi and use him as a sacrificial lamb to cover up the story. Afridi had a history of working with the CIA in the past. While he had not assisted the CIA in the hunt for Bin Laden, nevertheless, he fit the profile.

Having these facts as reference, it is mind-boggling and outright ridiculous to watch Pompeo tell Congress that he would make efforts to bring Afridi home. The secretary of state is being totally disingenuous. On the other hand, spy swaps are suddenly the latest fad. Asad Durrani in his controversial book titled Spy Chronicles that he co-authored with ex-chief of India's RAW A S Dulat, hinted at a possible use of Indian spy Jadhav in a swap or his return for the right price. Musharraf also pointed out that had he been in power, he would have swapped Shakil Afridi for Mullah Fazlullah.

Shakil Afridi's and Jadhav's fates might very well resemble that of Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy captured by the FBI. His lawyer tried to convince the judge not to award Abel a death sentence as he could be useful in a possible spy-swap situation with the Soviet Union. The famous episode is depicted in the movie Bridge of Spies, where Abel is swapped for American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers. In Afridi's case, swap talk makes sense if the official narrative is believed. Otherwise, how can Afridi be swapped with those who got him behind bars in the first place?

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Publication:The Express Tribune (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:May 30, 2018
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