March 14, 2011

Raymond Davis Nears Political Fan

Maybe they were proving a point, or possibly taking advantage of the new window. Pakistan Maj. Gen. Mehmood Ghayur of the army’s Seventh division in North Waziristan, recently defended America’s use of drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA): “myths and rumors about U.S. Predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizable number of them foreigners.”

Having finally found some worthy targets, the CIA launched four drone strikes over the last 36 hours.

But ultimately these Hellfire missiles symbolize Washington’s final warning shot to release CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who’s about to enter an immunity trial after killing two Pakistanis and indirectly killing a third. A wild situation stands to grow wilder on Tuesday after one last diplomatic flurry failed to extract Davis from a Lahore prison. Weekend reports dueled over whether Islamabad would delay Davis’s immunity trial or go ahead as planned.

After consulting with the Foreign Ministry, Chief Justice Ijaz Chaudhry announced on Monday, "The petitions related to immunity are disposed of because today the Foreign Office has not clearly told us whether there is immunity in this case or not... The case is in a trial court... it will decide on his immunity."

Everyone stands to lose something in a trial case. Halting aid to Pakistan remains a realistic possibility given Congressional chatter, and Pakistan isn’t in the economic position to forfeit U.S. military and financial assistance. However Islamabad will at least improve its image amongst its people. While it may be convenient to accuse Pakistan's government of caving to public pressure, Davis’s killings were simply too inflammatory to let him walk. Nor would Washington respond that differently to Davis’s crime - by judging him irrespective of Pakistan’s concerns.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani repeated his declaration on Sunday that the government “will never allow anyone to meddle in its own affairs,” easy political points during hard times. And Islamabad, too vital in America's war in Afghanistan, will emerge unscathed if U.S. aid isn’t severed.

America, on the other hand, stands to lose a great deal more from Davis's trial. At best he returns home unconditionally, angering a nation in the process and further aggravating a delicate political balance between Washington and Islamabad. The more public pressure on both governments, the harder it is to justify support for Afghanistan's war. But Davis appears headed for a legal trial over shooting and killing two Pakistanis, seeing that the evidence is stacked against him. Washington bumbled through Davis’s diplomatic status after failing to immediately extract him.

Naveed Enayet Malik, the Deputy Attorney General, submitted the Foreign Ministry’s reply stating, “Raymond Davis’s correct name is Raymond Allen Davis to whom business visa was given on the U.S. government request. Following the incident, the U.S. embassy approached the foreign ministry for immediate release of Raymond Davis possessing diplomatic passport.”

Perhaps worst of all, Davis’s arrest revealed a wider CIA infiltration program to follow Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has historically funded and shielded from foreign intelligence. The New York Times writes that Davis, “called unwelcome attention to a bigger, more dangerous game in which Davis appears to have played just a supporting role.”

This fear has disseminated throughout Pakistani society, a threat against personal security that also invades their national sovereignty.

An escape route out of Pakistan is difficult to find. We outlined in a prior post that Davis set off not one but five political battles: the CIA vs ISI, the U.S. government vs. the victims’ families, the U.S. government vs. the Pakistani government, the U.S. government vs. the Pakistani people, and the Pakistani people vs. their government. Only a comprehensive solution will resolve the entire matrix. A backroom political deal only shores up relations between Washington and Islamabad, and the CIA and ISI. Diyat, or blood money, resolves a third equation but leaves the Pakistani people’s wider grievances unsettled.

And the victims’ families aren't thrilled with diyat either. Imran Haider, brother of the slain Faizan Haider, said, "Some relatives suggest we should accept the offer so that the issue is resolved. But 70% of the family says he should be convicted."

One alternative that we’ve advocated is the exchange of Aaifa Siddiqui, a plan endorsed by Islamabad itself as well as Waseem Shamshad, older brother of the slain Faheem Shamshad. Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced by a New York court to 86 years in prison after shooting at U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. This plan would be highly controversial in Washington, but no less controversial for Islamabad. The beauty of exchanging Davis for Siddiqui cuts across the entire spectrum, feeding Pakistan’s public and mending relations between governments at the same time.

If Washington balks at this strategy, it should deeply consider that small gestures - humbleness and remorse - may yield disproportionate benefits. The White House and CIA destroyed their appeal to mercy by unsuccessfully denying Davis’s identity, lying about his credentials, demanding an unconditional release after his CIA/Special Forces/Blackwater background surfaced, and overall acting like a bully. This insensitivity, above all else, seems to have killed the appeal of diyat among the victims’ families. They want justice done to their lost and honor restored to their family, not cold cash for a cold murder.

The Obama administration initially dreamed of winning “hearts and minds” in Pakistan, only to see his own image plummet below Bush levels, from 13% in 2009 to 8% in 2010. Yet Pakistanis still separate the American people from their government and maintain hope of improving relations.

Davis's rock bottom will demonstrate whether Washington can bounce back from its errors in Pakistan, or else bury itself with them.


  1. 'Diyat, or blood money, resolves a third equation but leaves the Pakistani people’s wider grievances unsettled.' A key point in a comprehensive take. Another own goal for the US image in AfPak. Craig Murray, a former diplomat, has pointed out that Davis is not entitled to diplomatic immunity. The article is linked on my homepage if you haven't seen it. Not much to add to your own assessment, though.

  2. Will check him out. It seems impossible that any reasonable court in Pakistan will rule in favor of Davis, let alone one with a political agenda. U.S. sources admit he didn't have the documentation, his background is an established fact, his rescue agents fled, and the victims' relatives, in their own words, have been made to feel that they did something wrong.

    This really is an image battle before a political, military, and legal battle - the three fuse into an overall impression. And Washington pays little attention to how it's perceived.