February 21, 2011

US, Pakistan Tug of War over Raymond Davis

The main theory explaining a lull in U.S. drone strikes has Washington pouring water on its fiery relationship with Islamabad. Hellfire missiles haven't fallen on Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) since January 27th, the night Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis under murky circumstances. But if the Obama administration actually intended to mend America’s broken ties with Pakistan, why approve a strike now?

Perhaps a big fish will turn up fried, except the odds favor a handful of low level militants. As Davis’s case escalates in all directions, why would drones buck that trend? Retaliation makes no sense and perfect sense within America’s conflicted Pakistani policy.

Senator John Kerry recently traveled to Islamabad in hopes of negotiating an arrangement between the government and the victims’ families. Offering an investigation in America and payment to the aggrieved parties, Kerry must have thought he could smuggle Davis away like the other U.S. “diplomats” that already “flew the coup,” according to one Pakistani officer.

Yet the situation only intensified since his departure. Davis had summoned a Toyota Land Cruiser after shooting two Pakistani men, but the driver struck another Pakistani and fled. The car was later deposited within the U.S. consulate. With Pakistan’s media and populace digging in against what they consider a pliable PPP government, the Lahore High Court ruled on Friday to impound and search the car that ran over a third victim.

With neither Washington nor Islamabad willing to back down, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) then appeared to put its stamp on Davis’s diplomatic status. Already accused of designating drone targets for the CIA, multiple sources confirmed to The Guardian that the former Special Forces operative enjoys employment from the agency: “It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt.” This designation, if true, would squash the legal battle over his immunity.

Davis’s rescuers are also believed to populate the CIA's ranks, having left from his house.

Another Pakistani official denied reports that Davis killed two ISI agents, a theory started by none other than ISI sources. But the anonymous official did add: “We are a sovereign country and if they want to work with us, they need to develop a trusting relationship on the basis of equality. Being arrogant and demanding is not the way to do it.”

It’s not surprising, then, for a few missiles to make their own point in Waziristan.

Not that this strategy makes much sense, but a halt in drone strikes can be explained in other ways. The Obama administration isn’t making an additional effort to bridge the ever-widening trust deficit with Pakistan. On top of a bullying attitude that has infuriated public opinion, Davis is no more likely to receive a fair trial in America than in Pakistan. Or he may not see a trial, like the Toyota’s occupants.

Despite an eventual softening, Washington's reaction to Davis has consistently demonstrated insensitivity to Pakistan's situation.

Instead, grounding the Reapers may represent America’s shallow attempt to “play it cool.” With drones stuck in their own legal ambiguity, the White House likely felt (and rightly so) that continual strikes juxtapose with the “international law” argument. Never-mind that one month won’t erase any memories, a instantaneous crises demanded a quick policy fix.

But since Washington isn’t getting its way, the CIA might have decided to protect its own and fire a warning shot.

Although this endless cycle of escalation is nothing new in Pakistan, it’s still amazing how one man now threatens U.S.-Pakistani relations as a whole. Even if the two governments reach an agreement over Davis, a good possibility, anti-American sentiment in Pakistan runs the risk of entering single digits. The basic killing of three Pakistanis, mixed with Davis’s military background, the realistic chance of him being a spy, and America’s wider “War on Terror,” has reinforced Pakistanis’ toxic impression that Washington rules Islamabad. And unleashed a revolutionary anger at being valued less than Americans.

Revolutions often spark from the unexpected and catalyze around an individual - friend or foe.

Equally amazing is Washington’s willingness to jeopardize Afghanistan by trying to protect that very war. In attempting to shield intelligence assets under diplomatic immunity, likely a long-standing practice that's now being exposed, America has forgotten Pakistan as it views U.S. interests at the global level. Of course the Obama administration must see the forest through the trees, but its hard-headed pursuit of Davis is singlehandedly wrecking havoc on Pakistan’s politics and public sphere.

Apparently the Pentagon has written off an operation into North Waziristan, and expects little assistance in Taliban negotiations.

It’s easy to say that U.S. opinion can’t go any lower in Pakistan, or that the trust deficit has never been wider. These statements may be true. However Raymond Davis’s case is raising the temperature to untold levels, and trust, the lifeblood of military cooperation, is nowhere to be found in either capital. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can drone on about “valuing” Islamabad’s strategic relationship - her smile campaign has crashed and burned.

While President Barack Obama and his cabinet repeatedly emphasize Pakistan’s necessity in the war in Afghanistan, their actions are speaking in the opposite direction. Real respect is earned, not enforced.

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