March 7, 2011

Blood Money Leaves Davis’s Damage Unrepaired

As Raymond Davis’s immunity case nears its March 14th hearing (now March 16th), Washington is scrambling to avoid what one Pakistani source labels “an atomic bomb.” Davis, who stands accused of murdering two Pakistani civilians, has been fully outed as a present CIA and former Blackwater contractor with Special Forces experience. Yet the White House still insists that Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity, with President Barack Obama appealing to “a broader principle at stake” and Marc Grossman, U.S. special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, calling for Davis’s immediate and unconditional release.

So far Islamabad has resisted enormous political and military pressure to comply, leaving Davis in the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) hands. Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry even denied a motion on Monday seeking to make Cameron P. Munter, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, party to Davis’s immunity petition.

As Washington tries to navigate Pakistani law and rewrite international law, it should turn to America’s own vision of justice in search of an equitable solution.

The steady drumbeat for diyya - blood money in Islamic law - reached a peak after U.S. legal experts arrived in Lahore to advise Davis. En vogue as a shortcut for averting an explosive trial, diyya presents an opening to avoid a calamitous spectacle between Washington and Islamabad. Realizing that its absolute position on immunity is unlikely to hold in court, the White House appears privately willing to sacrifice its “broader principle” to bury the case and "get back to business." Although U.S. officials maintain Davis’s unconditional release in public, Zahid Bokhari, Davis’s lawyer, wasted no time declaring diyya as, “not just a good way, but the best way” to resolve his case.

Unfortunately for U.S. policy in Pakistan, Bokhari operates as a legal expert rather than the politico-military mind of a counterinsurgency specialist. Blood money offers a quick fix to an incredibly complex problem, and there’s usually no such thing in COIN. While “get out of jail with a price” tempts the CIA and ISI as the cleanest option to reset their “rules of the game,” this mindset works against U.S.-Pakistani relations as a whole.

Diyya treats Davis’s case in a vacuum rather than in the fourth-generation war currently engulfing Pakistan.

America only holds half of the keys to releasing Davis in its present conception of diyya. The CIA’s lost man generated a matrix of perception battles upon being arrested for murder: the U.S. government vs. the victims’ families, the U.S. government vs. Pakistani public opinion, the Pakistani people vs. their government, Washington vs. Islamabad, and the CIA vs. ISI. Blood money resolves the first and last two problems under optimal conditions, leaving Pakistan's political and cultural spheres empty.

Nor can diyya be considered the “best option” until the victims' families agree.

The murders of Mohammad Faheem and Faizan Haider, gunned down by Davis on January 27th, turned their families into national celebrities. Refusing U.S. aid turned them into heroes. Shamzad, Mohammad’s brother, claims Pakistanis have flooded him with assistance, saying he has no need for America's money. Both families allege that no government or U.S. officials have visited them, creating an immediate gap in perceptions and space for Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s main Islamic party. The group regularly denounces U.S. activity in Pakistan and has taken the families under its wing; a planned fundraiser intends to remove finances from consideration.

When reporters pointed out to Davis’s lawyer that the families have so far refused diyya, Bokhari replied, "To my mind, they are affected by the pressure of the public and the parties.”

This stunning political ignorance reveals all that’s wrong with America’s response to the Davis crisis, and Muhammad Aijazu Rehman can explain why. The brother of the third victim, killed by Davis’s extraction team as it raced to him, recently arrived from the United Kingdom after receiving a law degree. Rehman, whose brothers’ killers have already fled Pakistan into obscurity, knows exactly what he’s talking about and popular pressure plays a minimal role in his thinking. Pakistanis may hold America to a higher standard of diyya, which implies unintentional murder and often lets criminals walk, but in this case U.S. compensation becomes an appetizer to “a broader principle.”

Though open to diyya, Rehamn clarifies, "I can't straight away accept money, it's a question of family honor. There has to be something toward justice first.”

"They are using us," Rehman admits of Jamaat-e-Islami, "but at least they are doing something. I'm not anti-American or anything. I have looked up to the American judicial system since I was a child, but I haven't seen anything from them. It's like we have done something wrong and they are angry with us.”

Like Pakistanis in general, Davis's victims don’t want money so much as a show of remorse, a legal concept Americans should understand. Yet Washington is treating the incident like a civilian casualty in Afghanistan - here’s your $2,000 and move along. Other CIA agents have already fled the country, underlining Washington’s impunity. No reflection, no sense of understanding the situation, can be found. U.S. legal and law officials call these types of people "cold killers."

Pakistanis reject apologies for the same reason Afghans do: cash comes second to principle.

"It is not acceptable for the Afghan people anymore,” President Hamid Karzai said after nine boys were killed by U.S. forces. “Regrets and condemnations of the incident cannot heal the wounds of the people."

America’s response to Davis’s arrest runs contrary to what is first a political, then a military, and finally a legal battle. Washington has treated his case in reverse; the short-term challenge of securing Davis’s release, and the long-term challenge of protecting similar agents abroad, have overwhelmed a specifically-tailored response for Pakistan. Davis’s case is, in fact, far from an isolated event. After clashing with the ISI in December, when its station chief was outed and evacuated, the CIA expanded its personnel over the last three months to fill the intel gap inside Pakistan’s cities. It also wanted to send the message that if the ISI won't obey orders, the CIA will carry them out itself.

Davis was simply caught at the worst possible time, when, “US military and intelligence personnel would be brought to Pakistan under the cover of diplomatic assignments for covert operations.” Davis’s capture then triggered internal investigations into these assets, spawning reports of a 1,000 man spy-ring and fleeing CIA agents. Now, even if Davis is freed through a political deal or diyya, the damage could absorb itself into an ignoble lineage of U.S. errors. Once more the Pakistani public will be left unsatisfied, furious with their own government, and demonizing America.

All because Washington acts like Davis did nothing wrong, a response that insults the intelligence and dignity of Pakistanis.

“The pity is that the Americans are also well aware of the tense situation,” writes The Nation, “but their insistence on getting their man out of jail and back home at the earliest is prompted by, it seems, more than one, though largely inter-related, reason. The superpower, right or wrong, would like its wishes to be complied with. It might sound strange that although the US and its allies are desperate about extricating themselves from the war on terror to avoid the humiliation and shame of defeat, and although Islamabad holds the key to the kind of withdrawal they could claim to be honorable, Washington is not worried about upsetting Pakistan.”

Davis has taken root across Pakistani society and, especially during Islamabad’s weakened political state, cannot be extracted without interrupting a vast web of people and beliefs. As such, the Pakistani government expects a big payoff for releasing Davis rather than a thank you card from the White House. According to local reports, the ISI sees Davis as a bargaining chip to reset the CIA’s activity in Islamabad's favor. However, a more influential key to Davis’s release (in addition to remorse) happens to occupy Pakistan’s list of grievances with Washington. Fully capitalizing on the victims, Jamaat-e-Islami sent Shamzad to Karachi to meet with relatives of Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted of attempting to murder U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has tried, unsuccessfully, to exchange Davis for Siddiqui, now deteriorating in prison for 86 years after a highly controversial trial in New York. A trial during which Washington ignored Islamabad’s concerns.

The White House’s primary challenge in Davis’s case isn’t securing his release, a secondary goal in itself, but finding resolution within Pakistan’s political crisis and hypersensitivity. Diyya only mends military, intelligence, and possibly political relations between Washington and Islamabad. By contrast, swapping Siddiqui achieves success across the entire spectrum of fourth-generation warfare. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani predicts that her release would go a long way in repairing America’s image, which in turn benefits its collective relationships in Pakistan.

Waseem Shamshad, the elder brother of Mohammad Faheem, already approves: “I outrightly reject any compensation for the cold blooded murder of my brother. I can only forgive him if US releases the daughter of Pakistan, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.”

While Washington continues to balk at the exchange, controversial as it would be at home, Davis and Siddiqui’s cases aren’t so different as they might appear. Both caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, the pair possessed an equal bag of tricks when arrested. Siddiqui reportedly clutched a sack containing U.S. targets and bomb-making literature; Davis was found with a spy’s arsenal of mobile phones, targets in Lahore, “buckets of bullets,” and fake documentation. Both claim innocence.

And Davis's release is just as controversial in Pakistan as Siddiqui's would be in America. It should be noted that Aafia’s own kin reject a swap. Fauzia Siddiqui, her eldest brother, warns, “There is no comparison between Davis and Dr. Aafia. He is a killer, and he must be penalized for that.”

Nevertheless, Siddiqui’s release into Pakistani custody would achieve what diyya likely won't: admitting remorse and humility. Aafia speaks to the victims’ families, ordinary Pakistanis, Islamabad, and to the military and ISI, as improvement in U.S. perceptions favors their continual relationship with Washington. She also sucks the wind out of the Taliban's rally call for her release.

Although U.S. officials count Siddiqui as a hard sacrifice, they should deeply consider Davis’s knife hovering above their nose, waiting to spite America's face.

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