This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
The American version of the status of Davis is that he holds a diplomatic passport and was issued a visa, being designated a “regional affairs officer” — a euphemism for his being a CIA operative, with his background known to the hosts. He was also listed as “administrative and technical staff” which entitles him to diplomatic immunity. According to the Pakistanis, Davis is actually an employee of a private security agency, Hyperion Protective Consultants. Oddly, while the Americans claimed he is an embassy employee, the State Department spokesman described him as a “(Lahore) Consulate employee”. Amidst these flip-flops by the Obama Administration, former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who had avoided a scheduled visit to Munich, evidently fearing that he was on the verge of being fired, joined issue with others immediately after he lost his job. Qureshi claimed that his ministry had carried out a detailed study and concluded that Davis was not entitled to diplomatic immunity.
These developments came at a time when Pakistan’s politics was becoming increasingly volatile. The Zardari regime in Islamabad does not want hassles in relations with the Americans. The issue would have been settled and Davis quietly repatriated to the US if the incident had taken place in the Federal Capital Area, where President Zardari controls the police. But Lahore is not the federal capital. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has shown no inclination of making life easy for President Zardari. After easing President Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party out of the ruling coalition in Punjab, moves will be initiated to get his brother Nawaz Sharif back as Prime Minister. Nawaz Sharif knows that his PML (N) will sweep the polls in any national election. The Sharif brothers also have no inhibitions in being seen to be supportive of the growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Shahbaz has funded Hafiz Saeed’s Jamat-ud-Dawa after it was declared an international terrorist organisation. The Punjab Police swiftly arrested and charged Davis with murder, knowing that the judiciary headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is virulently anti-Zardari. The Lahore High Court has deferred the case till March 14. In the meantime, Davis sleeps in a Lahore jail, despite assertions by President Obama himself that he enjoys diplomatic immunity and should be released.
Stirring this boiling cauldron is the all-powerful Gen Ashfaq Kayani and his ever loyal ISI chief, now under extension, Lt.-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha. There has been no love lost between the CIA and the ISI in recent days. The CIA is furious that its base in Khost province of Afghanistan, near the Af-Pak border, was attacked and destroyed by jihadis from across the Durand Line. Tensions between the two intelligence agencies escalated when the ISI leaked the identity of the CIA station chief, then working undercover in Pakistan. Moreover, Davis was undermining the ISI by establishing his own links to eliminate the jihadis in the Pashtun tribal areas along the Af-Pak border. Worse still, he was evidently attempting to undermine and infiltrate the citadel of the “holiest of the holies”, the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief and patron saint of the ISI, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed.
The army quietly joined the chorus seeking to push the Americans to a corner and force them to offer concessions, though General Kayani does not exactly love fellow Punjabi Nawaz Sharif. What the Americans, like some in South Block, have failed to acknowledge is that General Kayani believes that the US needs Pakistan just now more than Pakistan needs the Americans. He evidently feels that the Americans will blink first, which they show every inclination of doing in this standoff.
The Raymond Davis affair is a manifestation of the larger malaise afflicting the transactional US-Pakistan relationship. Thanks to some adept diplomacy by India, the Obama Administration soon gave up the thoughtless proposal mooted by Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid that it should actively involve itself in meddling on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir by appointing Bill Clinton as a Special Envoy. Moreover, its initial honeymoon with China soon led to estrangement, accentuated by the global economic downturn. The realisation dawned on Washington that India would be a useful partner in fashioning an inclusive Asian architecture for security and cooperation. While Prime Minister Gilani and his mandarins have been constantly moaning that the Americans are not treating them “equally” with India and denying them a nuclear deal, General Kayani appears hell bent on giving the Americans a difficult time by providing support and haven to the “Quetta Shura” headed by Mullah Omar and to the Taliban’s Haqqani network.
American diplomacy in Afghanistan also needs to be reviewed. President Karzai disagrees with US policies and is meeting General Shuja Pasha regularly, seeking Pakistani cooperation for “reconciliation” with the Taliban. The present institutions of governance in Afghanistan do not inspire confidence in the minds of ordinary Afghans. The Americans have also not evolved a coherent strategy of how to get the Taliban to renounce violence and abide by the Afghan constitution. Nor is there confidence that the Afghan National Army will develop the capabilities to overcome Taliban depredations by 2014. The realisation has to dawn that General Kayani has no intention of acting against either the Afghan Taliban or his favourite jihadi groups. Terrorist safe havens in Pakistan cannot be eliminated unless the US reduces its dependence on Pakistani logistical support and fashions alternative logistical arrangements with Russia and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours. Only then can the international community evolve viable policies for governance within Afghanistan and ensure that Af-Pak borders are no longer what Admiral Mullen called “the epicentre of global terrorism”.