March issue 2011
Spy vs Spy
Raymond Davis was released by Pakistani authorities this week. A deal was inked where diya(compensation, or “blood money”) was paid to the family members of the two men he shot dead. In a trial held in Kot Lakhpat jail, the families said they were not coerced into making the deal. So more than six weeks after the CIA contractor (who was described as “our diplomat” by the US) first made headlines — and highlighted and exacerbated the often strained relationship between the US and Pakistan — Davis was handed over to US officials who whisked him out to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. In a press statement, US Ambassador Cameron Munter said, “The families of the victims of the January 27 incident in Lahore have pardoned Raymond Davis. I am grateful for their generosity.” He also said that “the United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the incident in Lahore.” This is just as Senator John Kerry promised in his visit to Pakistan in February.
But the realities of Raymond Davis’s official diplomatic status were never revealed. As usual in Pakistani politics, the truth remains hidden. And in the process, public outrage over the incident continues. Of course, the fact that a CIA operative was spying on ISI assets and gunning down men in Lahore, didn’t make Pakistan’s top spy agency too happy either.
In this article, written and published in the March 2011 issue of Newsline before the deal was finalised in court to release Davis, Ayaz Amir examines the relationship between the US and Pakistan and shows that it is deeper and more secure than some have suggested.
– Online Editor
Even if the ISI’s department of creative fantasies had undertaken this task it would have been hard put to craft a more perfect outrage: a CIA operative caught when fleeing from the scene of his bravado after gunning down two petty criminals near, of all places, Mozang Chungi, Lahore. A third person crushed under the wheels of an American-driven SUV that had come to rescue the CIA gunslinger, Raymond Davis.
Caught with his pants down doesn’t quite describe this scene out of a thriller waiting to be made. This was beyond pants – the CIA caught in a flap whose outlines or growing dimensions it could scarcely have imagined, right in the heart of Pakistan’s patriotic capital, Lahore.
Small wonder our American friends panicked and came out with ill-considered statements they should have had ample time to regret. In demanding the man Davis’s immediate release on grounds of diplomatic immunity, the tone adopted in the first statements from the US Embassy, and later on even the State Department, was not just insensitive. It had the touch of imperial Rome about it. The regret was muffled; the arrogance shone through: release our man or there will be consequences.
In the event, the consequences have been less than cataclysmic. If past practices are anything to go by, Pakistan in dictatorial attire would have made little fuss over a lone operative, regardless of whether anyone had been killed or not. Wayward, gruesome, cruel death, is a fact of life, much more so a fact of Pakistani life. In General Zia’s time, an American national, Ray Clegg, associated with the American School in Islamabad, was caught with an arms caché and imprisoned. But before anyone knew it he had been flown out of the country.
It is Pakistan’s creaky democracy, warts and all, with its multiple power centres, which has brewed the cup of embarrassment the United States has had to drink on this occasion.
The Americans have applied all the pressure they could, but the mountain not having moved, they are showing signs of moving towards the mountain. Senator John Kerry was the first American who tried to speak sensibly on this issue. President Obama, who has also spoken, hurled no thunderbolts. His tone was also reasonable, although he stuck to the refrain that their man enjoyed diplomatic status.
A measure of balance having set in, the Americans are trying to repair some of the damage caused to a relationship which remains vital to them because of their second Vietnam in Afghanistan. But the greatest damage has been not so much to the relationship as to America’s imperial ego. The Pakistani piper paid by the US but on this issue not dancing to its tune: this has been hard for the US to swallow.
But America’s discomfiture has been a balm and a blessing for the mother of all our agencies, the ISI, which in the shape of the luckless Raymond Davis has been handed an instrument with which to square accounts with the CIA. Since last year when a stream of American operatives with none-too-clear identities and none-too-clear mission statements started pouring into Pakistan, thanks to a liberal visa regime decreed by ministers closest to President Zardari, the ISI has been in a constant fever, at its wit’s end about how to monitor, much less control, what to its eyes is a dangerous influx.
But apart from feeding alarmist stories to the media about this American invasion, the ISI could do little except wring its hands in despair and mutter imprecations against the likes of Interior Minister Rehman Malik and our man in Washington, Hussain Haqqani, for being the prime agents of this policy.
Incidentally, both Malik and Haqqani are among the smoothest political operators in the present dispensation. Malik was deputy head of the Federal Investigation Agency in Benazir Bhutto’s second stint as Prime Minister. Out in the cold and in exile during the Musharraf regime, he made himself indispensable not only to Bhutto but also Zardari. His reward has come in the shape of his present position. Haqqani has not missed a single beat these past 25 years in correctly and immediately aligning himself with every change of political weather in Pakistan.
But with Davis’s Mozang marksmanship, the hand-wringing has given way to a sense of purpose. All of a sudden the ISI is in a position not to dictate terms, which would be to put it too strongly, but to press for new rules of endearment.
Stories appearing in the press – stories in which it is not too hard to detect the ISI’s tender footprints – convey a sense of the ISI’s unhappiness with the way the CIA has been operating in Pakistan, pursuing its own agenda without much sharing of information about its activities with the ISI. This has fed into the paranoia, very much part of the Pakistani scene, which doesn’t put it past the CIA to be behind some of the violence and terrorism afflicting Pakistan.
This kind of stuff sounds pretty far-fetched, but in a charged atmosphere things one would normally dismiss with a laugh assume a life of their own and find ready adherents.
The CIA and the ISI had a close partnership in the first Afghan ’jihad,’ the source of so many of our present sorrows. There was a nice symmetry in the arrangement then in place: the CIA supplying the money, the guns and Stinger missiles, and the ISI distributing these among the various Afghan factions. Aiding the symmetry was the fact that there were few grey areas in that ‘jihad‘. It was all black and white: the Russians as the bad guys and the ‘mujahideen’ the champions of freedom and liberation. Today, with the old certitudes no longer relevant, it is much more complicated.
Post-9/11, a fresh era of Pak-American engagement was opened, the Americans moving into Pakistan in large numbers and Pakistan providing logistical help — in the opinion of many Pakistanis above and beyond the call of duty. But there is a perception, given free expression by the security establishment, that under the Zardari dispensation American activities in Pakistan have spun out of control. With the Davis affair, the ISI has been granted an opportunity to reassert a measure of control and strive for some balance in what it sees as a skewed state of affairs.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the human aspect of this affair: three dead…four if we count the widow who committed suicide. There is plenty of emotion swirling around the affected families, but it remains to be seen how long memories on this score last. Who will come to their help? Who will look to their future?
Blood for blood, say the victims’ families, a call echoed and amplified by the forces of the religious right as they wave the banners of national dignity and honour. All the more reason that the families are not forgotten and abandoned once their usefulness as pawns in a larger game is over.
The federal government looks a bit lonely in the aftermath of this affair. If it could have had its way, Davis would have been out of his self-created mess in a trice. Interior Minister Malik, master of the art of leaping first and thinking later, in the first throes of excitement quickly declared that Davis had diplomatic immunity. This was a blunder as it conveyed the provocative message that the government was all set to free Davis. The clerical and patriotic brigades needed no further excuse to hit the ceiling.
The Foreign Officer threw a further spanner in the works by maintaining that Davis did not enjoy diplomatic immunity. And if this wasn’t enough, Foreign Minister Qureshi did what few people in his position would have done: say the same thing in public, that too to one of the leading members of the moral outrage brigade. The government’s goose was cooked. Even if Zardari had wanted to oblige his American friends, his hands were tied. And as Davis by then was in judicial custody, everyone and his uncle were saying that it was now for the courts to decide the issue.
There are lessons in this affair for Pakistan. When it wants to stand up to America on important issues it can do so, without the heavens falling. However, it shouldn’t take a Raymond Davis to redefine any rules of engagement. We should be thinking more carefully about the commitments we make to foreign powers (read: the US) instead of being assailed by doubts and second thoughts after the first flush of enthusiasm is over. At the same time, it is not an inspiring spectacle when our various power centres sing in different keys and give the impression of a house divided.
The Americans too should have learnt their lesson: that they should not take a key ally for granted. If the US is a bit more careful about Pakistani sensibilities in the future, then this affair would have served a useful purpose. But a caveat is useful. The Pakistani policy elite is prone to delusions of grandeur. We remain the junior partner in this strategic relationship. Only up to a point can we press the agenda or wish that the world be shaped in our image.
So it should be scarcely surprising if our American allies feel slightly bemused when they hear the sounds of Pakistani patriotism on the loose. Most Pakistanis are not aware of the depth and scope of the current Pak-American relationship. Besides Kerry-Lugar and arms, the Americans are training our Frontier Corps, building extensive training facilities in Cherat, home to our Special Services Group, and training and equipping our naval commandos, besides a host of other things. They can be forgiven for wondering that if Pakistanis are so concerned about national honour they should then try a bit harder to be masters of their fate and learn to stand on their own feet.