Wrestling with Washington

It seems that Washington has finally had enough. Covert messages and behind the scenes missives to immediately release Raymond Davis had been falling on deaf ears — or rather some deaf ears — within Pakistan’s administrative setup. The ruling party’s own ranks were confused, to say the least, on what line to adopt as far as the sticky mess ensuing the Lahore shooting of two Pakistani nationals was concerned.For one, Davis’ immunity as a diplomat, albeit one of a ‘administrative and technical’ nature is debatable.The former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is believed to have lost his coveted portfolio for taking a stand against what he believed was wrongful ‘immunity’ or blanket protection for Davis.As the crescendo rises with Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee having landed in Islamabad to wield the famed US stick once again, sugar coated in regret over the killings, diplomatic relations between the two critical allies are strained to an extent not seen previously. Or so, at least outside the nuclear ambit where Pakistan had been subjected to crippling economic sanctions and some heavy duty cold-shouldering in the past.

Post September 11, this is the first major upset that has triggered off a whole debate of “do’s and don’t’s” and “sovereign rights” and “non-permissible’s”!With Washington having postponed scheduled talks pertaining to Afghanistan, the message is being forcefully put across. The immediate release of Raymond Davis is being sought. President Obama has now jumped on the bandwagon, reiterating diplomatic immunity. Davis’ status, despite the ‘technical and administrative’ slotting remains ambiguous. However, the US intends to certify before a Pakistani court that Davis has diplomatic immunity as per the Vienna Convention, thus allowing him not to be prosecuted by Pakistan.  The US has been demanding that Pakistan fulfill its international obligation to release Davis immediately. At the same time disclosures in the press pertaining Davis previous record of serving as a US Special Forces soldier have upped the ante. The fact that Davis was not the regular consular staff was always understood. What is still not clear is why he shot the two men on the motorbike chasing him in downtown Lahore, the provincial capital of Pakistan’s biggest province, Punjab.

Rumours are rife that the men who were gunned down were intelligence operatives, a claim rejected by the Pakistani intelligence establishment. The fact that the wife of one of the men has committed suicide has further raised the anti-US sentiments freshly unleashed across the country. Comparisons to Aafia Siddique, the MIT educated Pakistani neuroscientist (and an alleged Al Qaeda affiliate) are being made. Aafia is currently serving an 86-year prison sentence for intent to kill her US interrogators in Afghanistan at the detention center she was being held at and interrogated. Having being tried by a jury in a US federal court, Aafia’s case has been resurrected within the Davis paradigm. While Davis’ so-called diplomatic immunity may well prove a life saver, Aafia’s case is hardly optimistic. The fact that she was not even tried in a Pakistani court let alone sentenced makes it even more complex. Even if Aafia’s terror links are confirmed, would Pakistan not have been the only suitable venue to decide her fate?As with every Shakespearean tragedy, the comic relief in this case has been provided by the Taleban.  Tehrik-e-Taleban, Pakistan has warned the Pakistani rulers of harsh reprisals in case Davis is handed back to the Americans. Other opposition figures like Tehrik-i-Insaf’s leader Imran Khan has threatened to start a long march to Islamabad in case Davis is released.

With US threatening to cut off all socio-economic ties, that comes tied in the pretty little $7.5 billion aid package, the situation may well spiral out of control and affect even the strategic and counter-terrorism ties. The dilemma thus staring everybody large in the face is how to get Davis out without losing face and risking popular ire.No doubt David will be released eventually, sooner rather than later. There are indications that the government will let him go on the basis of  diplomatic immunity and will notify the Lahore High Court where he faces a criminal prosecution case.Considering the scenario that Davis was a special intelligence or security operative, something must have seriously gone wrong for him to expose himself this way. On a more serious note, is the blood of the two Pakistanis so cheap that it could just be written off even if they were intelligence operatives? This was not a shoot and run operation being played out somewhere remote between intelligence operatives of say state A or B, this was in the inner city, Mozang in Lahore. An accompanying US consulate car rode over a passer by killing him on the spot. What if the shooting had involved and killed more civilians? Does diplomatic immunity mean he should get away with cold- blooded murder, even if the Americans would have everyone believe it was in self defence? Funnily,  the US embassy to date has not mentioned that the motorcyclists following Davis had even shot at him once.

The drone strikes in Pakistan’s remote northern areas may still be remote enough to not create the kind of upset the Lahore shooting has generated. More important is the issue of where Pakistan stands today. Is being an ally in the war of terror enough justification to allow the complete violation of its national sovereignty? The rot may have started earlier during General Musharraf’s regime when special security operatives and foreign private security firm personnel were allowed to conduct their covert activities. But where does it stop. Looking at what is happening all around, one finds a dismal absence of national pride and honour for safeguarding what is sacrosanct, come what may. What is being grossly neglected is the need to  distinguish between being an ally and a subservient colonial state. It is time the writing on the wall is reread and damage control measures taken on an immediate basis – Khaleejnews