By Kamran Haider and Rebecca Conway
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's intelligence chief has reportedly asked the United States to stop its drone strikes in the country, a newspaper reported on Sunday, touching on an issue that has become more sensitive since the killing of Osama bin Laden strained ties.
The local Express Tribune said Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director Ahmad Shuja Pasha made the request in a meeting on Saturday with CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell.
"We will be forced to respond if you do not come up with a strategy that stops the drone strikes," Pasha is reported to have told Morell, the newspaper said on its website.
Pakistan is under intense U.S. pressure to explain how bin Laden lived in a town not far from the capital, by some accounts for more than five years, undetected.
Islamabad condemned the killing of bin Laden as a violation of its sovereignty. The bin Laden case has severely strained already uneasy ties between allies Washington and Islamabad.
Pakistan's government publicly says the drone strikes are counterproductive and inflame sentiments that fuel militancy. But analysts say the United States would not be able to kill high-value targets without Pakistani intelligence.
REQUEST FOR MORE DRONES
Pakistan's top military leader not only tacitly agreed to the controversial drone campaign against militants, in 2008 he asked Washington for "continuous Predator coverage" over tribal areas, according to recently released U.S. State Department cables.
According to a fresh batch of cables released by WikiLeaks, Pakistan's chief of army staff General Ashfaq Kayani asked Admiral William J. Fallon, then commander of U.S. Central Command, for increased surveillance and round-the-clock Predator coverage over North and South Waziristan, strongholds for Taliban militants.
The Pakistan Army denied the contents of the cable.
Several Pakistani officials reached by Reuters said they had no information on the meeting reported by the Express Tribune.
"With the drone strikes our stance is very clear - they are much more harmful than they help," said military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.
"With the CIA and the ISI it is also very clear - it (the CIA) should be sharing with them (the ISI) what the number of operatives here is, and where they are working, what they are doing, that sort of thing."
Morell also met operational leaders of the ISI and members of its counter-terrorism division.
"Both sides are reported to have discussed a way forward that would involve the U.S. stopping its drone strikes and expanding joint U.S.-Pakistan operations against militants," said the newspaper.
Morell asked if progress had been made in determining who may have been involved in supporting and protecting bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad, said the Express Tribune. Pakistan has said there was no collusion with bin Laden.
Any revelation that Pakistani officials knew of his whereabouts would severely hurt the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, which depends heavily on billions of dollars of American aid.
ISI officials, meanwhile, demanded access to information U.S. commandos obtained from bin Laden's compound.
(Additional reporting by Chris Allbritton; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Alex Richardson)