WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION of the wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, whose dropped catches in the Cricket World Cup 2011 infuriated millions of his countrymen, no single man has galvanised the fury of Pakistanis quite like the CIA contractor Raymond Allen Davis.
The twists and turns in the saga of Davis, without a doubt the most infamous foreign visitor in Pakistan’s recent history, have kept the country glued to TV sets and newspapers since he was arrested on 27 January after shooting two men, Faizan Haider and Mohammad Faheem, allegedly in self-defence, on a Lahore street. After a protracted diplomatic struggle that tested the fragile US-Pakistan alliance, the curtain finally fell on 16 March, after the families of Davis’ victims agreed to accept a staggering $2.34 million in “blood money”, leading to Davis’ release. It was Shariah law, in the end, that saved the day.
“Let the mullahs try to criticise this now,” my communist uncle exclaimed with a laugh as he watched right-wing TV commentators and analysts attempting to explain that the blood money deal was yet another conspiracy foisted upon Pakistan.
But while some of the liberals were laughing, the right wing was bristling with anger. When I called the president of the religious political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, Munawar Hasan, an hour after the Davis deal was revealed, I could hear him screaming in the background, presumably to a room full of deputies: “Find the families or their lawyers. We’ll do a press conference now.”
Out in the streets, many were mourning what they said was a loss of Pakistan’s honour. As the well-heeled socialites of Karachi stocked up on groceries in anticipation of violent protests, the former Inter-Services Intelligence chief Hamid Gul hyperbolically compared Davis’ release to the fall of Dacca (now Dhaka) in 1971.
For a country where the rule of law is next to nonexistent, Pakistan’s police displayed remarkable efficiency in the Davis affair. After a dramatic chase through the streets of Lahore, the police arrested Davis before he could return to the consulate (but not before a car sent to pick up Davis killed a motorcyclist while rushing to the scene of the crime). The authorities seemed eager to make Davis a shining example of law and order—setting aside the fact that Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer had been murdered by one of his own bodyguards only a few weeks earlier—and promptly filed a police report in the case. It was as if Pakistan could not get over the good luck of having caught a real, live American spy, and red-handed at that.
While Davis has flown the coop, the rumour mill continues to churn out more theories. The right wing alleges the families were pressured into accepting the deal, and all sides have been shocked by the size of the payment—100 million Pakistani rupees ($1.17 million or `52.7 million) for each family, a sum that, even divided among the numerous recipients, would see them comfortably settled for the rest of their lives.
The case made everyone in Pakistan a self-declared expert on the Vienna conventions regarding diplomatic immunity. After Davis’ arrest, the US embassy announced that he was a diplomat and enjoyed indemnity from any legal proceedings in the case. By then, of course, it was too late. Davis had already been arrested, and court proceedings had begun. Protests organised by religious parties were held all over the country. Banners on the streets of Karachi called for Pakistan to end its role as “American slaves”. Hysteria over the issue was whipped up in the media, as right-wing columnists demanded that Pakistan’s sovereignty be protected and Davis be dealt with according to the law, Vienna conventions be damned. Shumaila Kanwal, the widow of Faheem, one of the men killed by Davis, committed suicide. She demanded justice as she lay on her deathbed, while multiple television crews filmed her last wishes.
As rumours reached fever pitch, fears that the case would be drawn out were laid to rest a week before the eventual settlement. There was a visible thaw in the chilly relations between the powerful ISI and the CIA, made clear in leaks from meetings between both sides. One senior security official, talking about a week before the deal was completed, sounded rather relaxed. “They need us,” he concluded with evident satisfaction.
Therein lies the crux of the problem. The United States depends on Pakistan as a supply route for its forces in Afghanistan, for cooperation in controlling the flow of militants and their arms across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and for the negotiation of a possible political settlement to facilitate the withdrawal of American troops. The barely concealed pride in the voice of the security official is one more testament to the fact that Pakistan knows the United States is stuck, if you’ll pardon the phrase, in a bad romance.
On the day that he was formally indicted on charges of murder by the court, Davis and his friends struck a deal: pay blood money (diyat) to the relatives of those who were killed. The move was ingenious: use religion to solve the case, thereby neutralising the loudest voices calling for Davis’ trial and sentencing. For the braying voices of the right-wing commentariat, the deal to release Davis has come as a double blow: the hated American Rambo had been freed, and it was the ISI itself that brokered the deal.
While Davis will certainly be ecstatic at his newfound freedom, the true winners are, once again, the ISI and its parent organisation, the Pakistan Army. During the negotiations with the US, the ISI reportedly demanded that the CIA reveal the full extent of its operations within the country. Given that relations between the two spy agencies are shrouded in secrecy, we may never know the complete terms of the deal reached by the wary allies. But the ISI successfully demonstrated, at the very least, how easily anti-American sentiment inside Pakistan can be whipped into a frenzy—all it takes are a few well-placed phone calls, a supply of US flags and a few groups ready to enact mock executions on the streets.
The Davis deal also signals an end to the charade that the civilian government calls the shots in Pakistan. On 17 March, multiple drone strikes in the tribal areas by CIA-operated Predator drones left nearly 40 people dead. And instead of the foreign office or the prime minister, it was Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who was the first to issue a statement, dubbing the attack senseless. The army “has already launched a protest in the strongest possible terms. It has been highlighted clearly that such aggression against people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances,” he said. A similar statement from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was issued hours later.
As the families of the victims in the Davis affair count their newfound millions, and the right wing pouts with disbelief, one thing is clear: relations between Pakistan and the US remain extremely fragile. All it takes to derail the entire partnership, it seems, are a few well-aimed bullets.