Curious case of Raymond Davis
The case of US undercover agent Raymond Davis has come to have a major bearing on Islamabad’s relations with Washington. There’s danger clear and present of its fallout on President Barack Obama’s stock in the US and Asif Zardari’s in Pakistan.
Washington has already snapped high-level contact with Islamabad, threatening prospects of Zardari’s proposed visit to the US. There was no interaction between Hillary Clinton and Shah Mahmood Qureshi (since booted out as Foreign Minister for his “refusal” to declare Davis a diplomat) at the recent Security Conference in Munich though she did set up a table with Pak Army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.
The Secretary of State’s obvious snub to Qureshi and willingness to interact with Gen. Kayani shows that civilian rulers, in the assessment of the US, were in no position to deliver on the Davis issue. The double-murder episode, in which the Lahore High Court intervened to stop Islamabad from letting the accused return home, has by itself triggered mass uproar and revulsion against Uncle Sam. The outrage compounded when the widow of one of the two men shot by Davis in a busy Lahore marketplace, committed suicide.
As brought out by Qureshi’s claim (that could well be meant to cause problems for Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, his political and spiritual rival from Multan), there is dispute within the establishment whether Davis had diplomatic immunity?
According to Talat Hussain of Dawn News, he arrived in Pakistan on a non-diplomatic visa, which, while being extended the first time, became diplomatic. Thereafter, it was status quo ante.
The flip-flop proved that Pakistani agencies let Davis be despite being in the know of his work profile. It’s well known that top-secret American organizations, including the CIA, have set up fronts for undercover operations in Pakistan. Conflict between them and the ISI is only inevitable— the two sides forever looking over their shoulders in a scenario of mutual suspicion with pretence of cooperation.
If Hussain’s TV report backed by documents is true, then Davis, who claims to have fired in self defense on two men “waving pistols” while trailing him on a motorbike, did not have diplomatic visa/immunity when the shoot-out occurred. The daylight drama had another twist when a high-speed US consulate vehicle supposedly rushing in aid of Davis, ran over a civilian passerby.
In normal times, the US would have had its way, given its clout in the Pak civil-military-political establishment. But these are different times. Its image in that country is at its rock bottom today, what with the war it’s fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northwest through drone attacks, primarily to avoid man-to-man combat on the Pakistani soil.
Effectively, the drone strikes have been a double-edged weapon, causing huge collateral damage in terms of civilian casualties in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (formerly NWFP) and the nearby tribal areas. Objective US and Pakistani analysts agree that “unmanned aircraft” might have taken out some Taliban and Al Qaeda targets. But their long-term implications were self-defeating, leaving in their wake nurseries for fresh recruits by terrorist groups, from among survivors of affected innocent families.
Obama’s own image in Pakistan has taken a beating amid reports that drone attacks have gone up manifold since the days of his more reviled predecessor—- George Bush. US diplomatic cables placed in public domain by Wikileaks haven’t helped matters either. In one such communication, Prime Minister Gilani was quoted as conveying his government’s tacit support for drone attacks with the option of making ritualistic protests in Parliament over violation of Pakistani airspace and sovereignty.
The PM couldn’t have taken that position without the Army’s support. This drags Zardari and the fauj as well into the controversy, leaving the three organs of the Presidency, the Army and the Executive at the mercy of the Judiciary that’s forever in activist mode on the nature of the US-led AfPak war and Pakistan’s ties with India.
I personally feel the PML-Nawaz government in Punjab can play a crucial role in breaking the logjam for two reasons: 1) The incident occurred in Lahore where it’s in power and 2) The PML-N’s ties with the top judiciary and hard line religious activists are the best among all political parties. Don’t forget that Hafiz Sayeed of the LeT is headquartered in Lahore and several sectarian/terrorist entities have safe heavens in southern parts of Punjab.
But the big question is whether Nawaz Sharif or his brother Shahbaaz, the Punjab CM, will play ball? There is a view that they have learnt to live with religious hardliners for fear of their lives and right wing votes.
Whichever way the case moves, it raises legitimate questions about Pakistan’s capacity to enforce international treaties and conventions to which it is a signatory. One says this on the presumption that Davis is a diplomat and not a special operations man, as claimed in certain quarters within even the US.
Even if he isn’t a diplomat, his activities were within the knowledge and perhaps express approval of the host country, the mishap happening when Davis’s shadows concluded that their foreign object was crossing the line.
The question therefore is whether the beleaguered Obama administration is staking its reputation in the region by doing business with an ineffective dispensation distrusted so deeply by its own people?
Quite clearly, the US President’s image and that of Pakistan’s power trident has come to hinge on the fate of an alleged spook reportedly carrying a Glock pistol, a GPS navigation system, a small telescope and four loaded magazines.
And if Obama could be that helpless, what really is in store for India in the proposed dialogue? Difficult to say but Qureshi’s successor in the foreign office, Ms Hina Rabbani Khar is a scintillating beautiful lady. Her added qualification: she’s the niece of former Punjab Governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the colourful central character of Tehmina Durrani’s love, sex aur dhokha kind of best-seller, My Feudal Lord.
PS: Read Hindi version of this post in Hindustan of February 15, 2011.