March 18, 2011

Journey Into Pakistan’s Information Black Hole

It may seem that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to answer out of sensitivity. Stonewalling on the payment of $2.3 million to the families of Raymond Davis’s victims, Clinton possibly wished to keep silent until the immediate aftermath in Pakistan had passed. The more likely scenario is that Clinton refused to answer out of insensitivity - that she was fully aware of the backlash triggered by Davis’s sudden release and ducked.

Islamabad has declared “high alert” for a week due to protests and possible violence from religious parties or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The U.S. Embassy will be closed Friday until further notice.

Clinton’s strategy committed a fatal flaw in losing control of America’s message at a pivotal and unstable moment. Better to confront and clarify the situation, instead of abandoning America's image to rumors of coercion and the anger of innocence. Her denial and lack of remorse amplified the tense standoff between the Pakistani people, their government, and the U.S. government. Explanations do exist, but Pakistanis probably won’t like what they hear. Although Islamabad chose the practical route by paying diyat and billing Washington later, this strategy only appears to form half of the plot.

“The U.S government did not pay compensation, and the U.S. position has been vindicated that Raymond Davis had immunity to prosecution,” Embassy spokesperson Alberto Rodriguez told The Nation on Thursday.

Apparently Washington has no intention of copping to Davis’s compensation, but of reviving his immunity status. Diyat would have admitted some level of guilt, subverting Washington's claim to immunity. Because the White House “didn’t pay,” Davis is once again a full blown diplomat. And why would U.S. officials investigate or try him now? What stops him from disappearing with the rest of his team?

This chain of events will generate more disorder in Pakistan, and the consequences of Clinton’s information vacuum predictably manifested in the Pakistani media and public. Which, by the way, demonstrate a deeper understanding of fourth-generation warfare than Washington.

Cyril Almeida of The Dawn succinctly explains of 4GW:
Frankly, if it were just games between states, it wouldn’t matter that much. Locked in a mutually suspicious and distrustful relationship, they will constantly seek to extract their pounds of flesh and bend the other to their will. Boys will be boys.

The problem: it isn’t just a game between states.

Raymond Davis may have given the ISI an opportunity to push back against the CIA/US and our spies may well have got their way — for now.

But if 10 years into an uneasy relationship, the boys over here still see fit to foment public unrest or to churn the political waters over every little disagreement with the US, at what point does the mess here become totally unmanageable?

Raymond Davis is gone. But the bitterness and hate and propaganda the episode spawned will linger on.

Kerry-Lugar, drone strikes, Aafia Siddiqi, Raymond Davis — why can’t the establishment here fight its battles with the US without making this place a little more dangerous, a little less stable each time?
Editorial from The Dawn:
Davis has escaped his self-induced Pakistani nightmare, leaving behind his unhappy hosts to fight various sets of incongruous realities. In a democracy, a high-profile murder suspect has been allowed to get away without the rulers feeling the need or having the strength to share with the people their understanding of the compelling circumstances. As public perceptions go, these rulers are subservient to the wishes of the real powers that risk crudely breaking a few minor rules of their own. They are readying themselves to live up to the US prediction of even more friendly ties with `Pakistan` — at a growing distance from the Pakistan comprising shades of people with various wishes and grievances. The two Pakistanis are not easy to reconcile. The Davis episode has made reconciliation more difficult.
Editorial from The News International:
The questions that have arisen from the manner in which the affair was handled continue to highlight many doubts and concerns. What agreements have been reached behind the scenes? Who was involved in finalizing them and who was responsible for detaining the lawyer for the heirs of the victims? The central government has refused to provide any answers. There has been no comment from the prime minister or president and even the weekly briefing given by the Foreign Office as a matter of routine each Thursday was canceled. The federal information minister has merely said the release came under Shariah law; the judge who delivered the verdict is reported to have gone on leave – ostensibly for security reasons. There is an element of mystery surrounding the role the Punjab government may have played or where the Rs 200 million paid as blood money actually came from. The US has denied making any payments and there is conjecture that the sum was removed from Pakistan’s own exchequer.

What we are left with, is a government which stands more discredited than ever before and a further erosion of our standing as an independent nation.
The liberal Daily Times was left to the contrarian viewpoint, but even its explanation smacks of depression:
Most people forget that Pakistan is a client state and the stakes for both the US and Pakistan were very high. They both badly needed to get out of this impasse. Pakistan cannot function without military and financial aid from the US. As long as we are financially dependent on other countries, crying hoarse over our lost sovereignty sounds like a plaint in the dark.
Finally, Pakistan’s nationalist outlet and anti-American cheerleader, The Nation:
Davis may have left Pakistan, taking with him the answers to these and many more questions. However, the answers will still be sought. At least four young Pakistanis are dead, two murdered, one run over and the widow of a dead man committed a suicide. There can be no national interest outweighing these lives, and all that Pakistan has got from its cooperation in the USA’s War on Terror is the USA deciding that the skin of one of its citizens, almost certainly one of its CIA contractors, is worth more than these lives.
Much of this material also predates the latest drone strike in Datta Khel. The two incidents will mix like a chemical reaction.

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