As expected a Pakistani court acquitted CIA operative/contractor after families of two motorcyclists he killed in January were paid a reported blood money of $2.3 millions. The case was decided under the Islamic clauses of Qisas and Diyat in Pakistani law. On a personal note it did not matter at all for me ever since this whole drama (yes it is a very well rehearsed and directed drama) started. It is not the first time such a drama is played in Pakistan. I firmly believe Raymond Davis is just a character, maybe a pawn or proxy in this battle between two sides that started way back. So it would be important to have a look at the background of this whole scenario.
I feel it appropriate to quote US secretary of State Hillary Clinton who I presume was testifying for her confirmation hearing at the congress. She spoke about the core issue faced by the Pakistani Establishment and categorically Pakistani government. She touched on fine lines of the issues at hand now and I believe there is no one more authentic than Hillary Clinton right now to set the tone of this article about the whole Raymond Davis saga and beyond.
Hillary Clinton said while vindicating Pakistan that:
“We also have a history of kind of moving in and out of Pakistan. I mean lets remember here the people we are fighting today we funded 20 years ago. And we did it because we were locked in a struggle with Soviet Union. They invaded Afghanistan and we did not want to see them control central Asia. And we went to work, and it was President Ragen in partnership with the congress, led by democrats woo said, you know what it sounds like a pretty good idea. Lets deal with ISI and the Pakistani military and lets go and recruit these mujahideen and that great, lets some to come from Saudi Arabia and other places importing their Wahabi brand of Islam, so that we can go and beat the Soviet Union. And guess what? They retreated; they lost billions of dollars and it lead to the collapse of Soviet Union. So there is a very strong argument, which is it wasn’t bad investment and the Soviet Union. But lets be careful what we sow, because we will harvest. So we then left Pakistan, we said ok, fine (washing her hands off) you deal with the stingers, that we have left all over your country; you deal with the mines that are along the border. And by the way we don’t want to have anything to do with you, in fact we are sanctioning you. So we stopped dealing with the Pakistani military and with the ISI and we are making up for a lot of lost time.”
Pakistani military and Inter Services Intelligence are an intrinsic part of Pakistani “establishment”. It has always been “there for the country”, safeguarding its interests as well as its future direction. On a more personal level I believe the word national interest was created for agencies like ISI, CIA. The problem faced by Pakistani establishment is evident from the statement above; they don’t want repetition of post-Soviet Union era in Afghanistan. They don’t want to deal with a mess beyond their control right next to their western borders with increasing Indian influence. On top of that post Musharraf there is excessive interference by US security agencies inside Pakistan, which is a thorn in the eyes of Pakistani establishment. The inability of Pakistani political leadership to take the issue head on makes it even more difficult for the establishment to play by normal rules.
It is not a normal situation, so the argument that normal rules of diplomacy are not applicable here makes sense to majority of Pakistanis. I personally believe there is no rule actually working in Pakistan. So it is not surprising that Raymond Davis saga has all the ingredients of a 21st century James Bond thriller. It has all the usual suspects weapons, prison, clandestine payments, murder, and an urban chase in busy city streets. As this is a very murky situation with very sketchy details out in the open, but one thing that became clear is the fact that US is engaged in a covert war in Pakistan a country it calls its front line ally in global war against terror. More importantly a country it has not declared war against.
Lets start with talking about Davis first. We all know about Raymond Davis’s background, as it is an “open secret” now. We are also aware of the flip-flops by the US administration and constant deliberation from Pakistani government about the “to be or not be” status of Davis. The bigger question emerging from this situation is the legal jurisdiction according to international law of “contractors” operating in war zones. It might not be wrong for military contractors doing multi tasks specially gathering intelligence, conducting warfare or helping with diplomacy. But what “hat” would they wear if they end up in a situation like that of Davis?
In the case of Raymond Davis, there was a stage where Islamabad and Washington went back and forth about his diplomatic status. Washington shifted its position more than once after facing stiff competition from Pakistanis. There was talk about the diplomatic immunity, then the option of declaring Davis persona non grata and then it moved on to the pitch battle between two frontline allies and their spies. If for a second we accept the claim by Washington that it is not important, whether Davis was a contractor or a formal embassy employee while discussing the question of immunity. The blame lies on the shoulders of those who issued him visa and that is Pakistani embassy in Washington. Washington set Davis’s status and it must have been known to Pakistani foreign office while processing his visa. If the person’s intentions or his status was such a mater of concern why Pakistani government accepted the terms and issued a visa and then re-issued it again? The matter that US brought out the diplomatic status issue after the arrest is also important to consider but it does not matter because once the guy was in Pakistan his activities must have been known to those who are responsible for keeping an eye on such matters.
Now I would like to talk about the circumstances that transpired on January 27. Here I would definitely like to point out that too much freedom of information In Pakistani media; especially information supplied by pundits (please feel free to read Hamid Mir, Ansar Abbasi if you would like to) fed by Pakistani establishment or otherwise over excited so-called journalist who made the whole event very complicated. I am going to look at different accounts of events culminating at Davis’s arrest.
Washington claims that two Pakistani men were following Davis on motorcycles while he was driving his car through suburbs of Lahore. Two Pakistani men jumped off their motorcycles and came towards Davis, with their weapons pointed at him, Davis defended by opening fire with his Glock, killing both of them. At this level Davis thought he is averting an attempted robbery (why I am not surprised).
Islamabad claims that Davis while stopping at the traffic signals shot at the Pakistani men on motorcycle and shot them from behind, making American stance completely wrong. On the other hand Pakistanis claim Davis got out of his car and took photos of the bodies of slain Pakistanis.
Now both these accounts are contradictory to each other, it becomes even more complicated when Davis calls the US Consulate in Lahore to extract him from the complicating situation. The consulate sent an unmarked SUV cutting through busy traffic and driving wrong way at a point, killing a third person who happened to be a random motorcyclist. Pakistani security forces chased Davis to a traffic circle a short distance away from the crime scene and nabbed him. Three murders in broad daylight in the heart of Pakistan was a Godsend breath of life to Pakistani mullahs and establishment and they did not miss the cue for this golden opportunity. Soon angry protestors were on the streets becoming a nightmare for Americans and their “sympathisers” in Islamabad.
It is important to note here that who could have an issue with Davis in Pakistan? There are many answers to it given by various sources but I tend to believe it was the tipping point for the Pakistani establishment who were longing for such an opening from last three years. Whether Davis was working on exposing links between Lashkar-e-Taiba (the Army of the Pure) and ISI in the context of ISI’s involvement in Mumbai attacks of 2008. Or he was working on some other covert or overt operation, his arrest out of the blue and then the prolonged public humiliation of Uncle Sam in Pakistan was all very well orchestrated. It is even attributed to some Pakistani officials who say that the two Pakistanis who were following Davis “were ISI agents”.
If we buy the statement by Pakistani officials about ISI and CIA knowing each other, and the business both were up to against each other, then why both had to resort to such public drama? Here comes my assertion at beginning right after Hillary Clinton’s vindication. This was not a normal case of three innocent guys getting killed on Pakistani soil by an American man whose identity is suspicious. This is a full-blown battle between two agencies, two covert strategies being played out in Pakistan. It is spy versus spy or CIA versus ISI precisely. Both of these works closely with each other at various fronts and at the same time both work against each other too. At the end of the day both are assigned to safeguard the national interest of their respective nations. Leon Panetta, the CIA director, recently called the relationship between ISI and CIA as one of the “most complicated” he has encountered during his time in intelligence.
An Islamabad insider laid out the case to me that the balance of power is shifting in the region, where India is gaining ground left over by the inability of Pakistani establishment to hold ground on their eastern border and mainly in Kashmir. Pakistan’s economic instability is the major cause of its inability to cope at two fronts, while India has taken advantage of this quite period to rearrange its house and put on an offensive both in Kashmir, Afghanistan and to some extent “inside Pakistan” too. In this whole scenario Pakistani establishment finds itself stuck, it has increasingly realigned itself with unconventional forces and the so-called good Taliban. I believe it was forced to keep a backup in case Uncle Sam packs his bags and leave like late 80s. These unconventional forces provide a manoeuvring space and leverage at tough times, but could backfire at certain other times as it happened in 2008. I am not suggesting that ISI as an organisation or Pakistani establishment was directly involved in these activities, but there are certain elements within this whole apparatus that see this as an option and I would not attack them for doing so. I believe America and West is a selfish, self-cantered, heartless friend who could pull out anything out of its endless arsenal of excuses to abandon you in the middle of a war. It has happen and there are increasing signs that it will happen again.
Further evidence of my assertion comes from a statement by Ray McGovern a former CIA analyst who alleges that US did not pay to the families but ISI did, and we know that ISI receives money from the US through bilateral military cooperation deals. There is another twist in the tale that Saudis might have arranged the blood money to secure Davis to relieve Obama administration of domestic pressure. It is becoming increasingly evident from all these points that this was a reminder to US and CIA that there is a limit to their excesses and they need to reconsider their policies in the region. Pakistani establishment has somewhat whitewashed all the PR efforts done by US in recent years.
There is a furore across Pakistan with masses demanding more accountability from foreign forces operating on Pakistani territory. US tried to hit ISI where it could have hurt, if we buy the idea of Davis working on ISI-LET connection, the reality is that it has backfired badly and it will take sincere efforts from both sides to recover from this debacle. Pakistani establishment has successfully averted a disaster, they did damage their credibility in the short term but I am sure their PR efforts are up and running ferociously to recover the lost ground. As today General Ishfaq Pervaiz Kiyani condemned the drone attacks in Pakistan’s Western border areas by CIA drones. It is one of the very few times that Pakistan military chief has come out in public and spoke against the drone attacks going on from last many years.