March 16, 2011

Clinton Spawns Information Vacuum in Pakistan

The governments - and their militaries and intelligence agencies - finally got their way. Raymond Davis walked a free man on Wednesday after being pardoned by a Pakistani court. 18 members of his victims’ families signed off one by one to the tune of $125,000, a slice of the $2.34 million awarded to them. Washington and Davis’s wife are thrilled.

“There has been a plan in the works for the last three weeks,” one U.S. official said under the condition of anonymity. “The concern was that if the actual murder trial started it would become very difficult to extricate him.”

So congratulations are in order in the capital. And if the White House intended to antagonize the Pakistani people even further, it can celebrate that accomplishment too. Some conservatives are even using Davis’s release as an excuse to cut U.S. aid to Pakistan - the same conservatives that want to go the distance in Afghanistan. Now they can refocus on fighting a counterinsurgency in one country that overwhelmingly opposes its presence, and in another country that only moderately opposes it.

Davis’s friends have all the work they’ll ever need.

Extracting the former Special Ops/Blackwater agent with blood money was always going to be a messy affair; no payment, small or large, would fully repair the harm done by his actions on January 27th. But it seems safe to say that, offered correctly, diyat would minimize anti-American sentiment as the first step to mending U.S.-Pakistani relations. It also seems safe to say that, barring any positive developments in the future, Washington chose the worst way of delivering diyat and its message to the Pakistani public.

Suspicion is overflowing after today’s events. Rather than a conviction and release, as rumored by Pakistani sources, Davis was pardoned, acquitted on all charges, and flown out of the country immediately. Raja Irshad, a lawyer for the families of the two dead men, said a total of 200 million Pakistani rupees (2.35 million dollars) had been paid, a figure confirmed by public prosecutor Abdul Samad.

“The family members told the judge that there was no pressure on them to accept the compensation and they had signed the pardon documents voluntarily, independently and with due consideration,” Irshad and several Pakistani officials insisted.

He issued this rejection because another lawyer, Asad Manzoor Butt, told Reuters, "We were put in detention for four hours and not allowed to meet our clients who were called by authorities to the court.”

The unanimous approval of the victims’ families shocked many Pakistanis into believing the court had pressured them. Many relatives publicly opposed a settlement and at the least wished to see Davis stand trial before being pardoned. Of course $2.34 million, even when divided over dozens of family members, may have flipped some minds. However, if no pressure was applied by either government and everything is cleaned up, why does America act like it’s still hiding something?

Washington and Islamabad just committed a legal coup and stepped into political quicksand. Public reaction in Pakistan is largely negative, both online and in the street protests now cropping up. Fearing this backlash, U.S. officials plan to close consulates in Pakistan on Thursday. So wonderful is blood money that the White House denied responsibility. Here’s the transcript of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reply to Davis’s release. Questionable doesn’t begin to describe this level of suspicion:
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, the United States did not pay any compensation. The families of the victims of the incident on January 27th decided to pardon Mr. Davis. And we are very grateful for their decision. And we are very grateful to the people and Government of Pakistan, who have a very strong relationship with us that we are committed to strengthening.

QUESTION: According to wire reports out of Pakistan, the law minister of the Punjab Province, which is where this took place, says the blood money was paid. Is he mistaken?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you’ll have to ask him what he means by that.

QUESTION: And a lawyer involved in the case said it was 2.34 million. There is no money that came from anywhere?

SECRETARY CLINTON: The United States did not pay any compensation.

QUESTION: Did someone else, to your knowledge?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You will have to ask whoever you are interested in asking about that.

QUESTION: You’re not going to talk about it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have nothing to answer to that.
The immediate reaction has centered around Clinton’s ambiguous statement that Washington paid no money to the victims. According to Rana Sanaullah, the law minister in question, the judge explicitly asked: "You have received the money?" The families replied “yes.” One ISI official mused of Clinton’s “intriguing” denial, "If the United States didn't pay, who did?"

An answer does exist though. Another U.S. official explained, “To date the U.S. government has not paid anybody anything. We expect to receive a bill.”

So Clinton is precariously balanced on this technicality. But her gravest error isn’t making such a statement to begin with - it’s failing to explain herself afterward.

Review Davis’s entire case: acquitted of charges, whisked out of the country, rumors of forced approval, denial of U.S. compensation. This chain of events is liable to aggravate a sizable portion of Pakistani society. Now add an information vacuum. Of all the options Clinton could select from, opening and immediately vacating an information vacuum spawned the highest concentration of conspiracies and distrust. Rather than clarify and take control of Washington’s position, Clinton just forfeited America’s message to Pakistan’s combustible public sphere. It won’t be long before U.S. officials are denying the allegations that she enabled.

Whatever happened in that court, Clinton’s comments provided a supremely suspicious close to Davis’s case; a false resolution has replaced one controversy with another. Diyat was already set to trigger confusion, conspiracy theories, and hostility towards both Islamabad and Washington. But to deny without explanation violates the essence of fourth-generation warfare - the type of warfare found in Afghanistan and Pakistan - while displaying a frightening ignorance in the process.

Winning the legal battle will take its toll on the rest of the COIN spectrum.

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