WASHINGTON – Pakistan has issued more than three dozen visas to CIA officers as part of confidence-building measures following the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and humiliated Pakistan, officials from both countries said Wednesday.
U.S. officials confirmed the move, saying it was viewed as a positive sign after weeks of what the U.S. had perceived as foot-dragging by Pakistan. The U.S. officials added that not all the visas requested by the Americans have yet been handed out.
U.S. and Pakistani officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
The visas are part of an agreement to rebuild counterterrorism efforts damaged by fallout from the secret bin Laden raid in Pakistan. The CIA officers would be part of an expanded joint counterterrorism force in Pakistan focused on hunting terrorism suspects.
Pakistan was not told about the May 2 raid ahead of time because of U.S. fears that bin Laden would be tipped off. The Pakistani army and intelligence service were humiliated by the raid and much of the Pakistani public was far more outraged at the American intervention than at news that bin Laden had been living comfortably near the Pakistani capital.
The agreement for the joint counterterrorism force was reached after talks in Islamabad weeks ago between Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha and top CIA officials, including CIA director Leon Panetta, the officials said.
The visas will help rebuild the CIA roster in Pakistan, which was reduced earlier this year in the aftermath of a separate controversy. Pakistan was angered by CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who killed two Pakistanis he claimed tried to rob him. He was released after it was arranged that the families of the dead men would receive compensation.
Some additional officers will be allowed to join the enhanced joint intelligence effort to hunt high value al-Qaida targets, the officials added.
U.S. officials have questioned how bin Laden was able to live in Abbottabad for at least five years without the Pakistanis knowing, although they have found no evidence that senior military or government officials were aware of his presence.
U.S. attempts to rebuild the relationship with Pakistan have been bumpy.
American officials say they have shared intelligence on four bomb-making factories in Pakistan's tribal areas but that militants were intentionally or inadvertently tipped off before a raid could take place. Pakistani military officials have denied they tipped off the militants, though they admit advising local tribal elders that their forces were about to raid the locations. Pakistani officials say all those involved in the raids are being questioned.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.