By now journalists everywhere (except in the US) have come to the conclusion that there is far, far more to Raymond Davis than is being revealed by the US or by Pakistani officials. That he was engaged in anti-state activities in Pakistan and that the two young men he killed were intelligence agents tailing him is virtually an accepted fact.
The US, never famous for its diplomacy (The Ugly American, which made that point more than half a century ago, became a best seller and a very successful movie, starring Marlon Brando), seems to have discovered fresh depths to its strong-arm, coercive diplomacy. The mere fact that no less a personage than the US President has asked that this low-ranked person be granted absolute immunity, is indicative of the US desperation to get him him out of Pakistan and its court system.
One Western journalist has referred to this incident as the “biggest intelligence fiasco since the downing of a U-2 by the erstwhile USSR in 1962.” Obviously, the apprehension is that were he to be tried and convicted in Pakistan and handed a lengthy prison, or even a death sentence, Davis might “spill the beans” and that, were he to do so, those Wikileaks cables could pale into insignificance!
That, in itself, is more than sufficient reason for Pakistan to refuse to hand him over; but there is far more to Pakistan’s problems regarding this issue than just that. However, before we get to those, some comically farcical blunders committed by the US Embassy in Pakistan merit narration, since I am fairly certain these are not being reported by the US media. They illustrate clearly the extent of the desperation American officials are feeling!
On January 25th 2011, just two days before Davis shot and killed the two young Pakistanis, the US Embassy submitted a list of its diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff in Pakistan to the Pakistani Foreign Office (FO), as all foreign nations are required to do annually. The list included 48 names. Raymond Davis was not on the list. The day after Davis shot and killed the two Pakistanis, the US Embassy suddenly submitted a “revised” list to the Foreign Office which added Davis’ name!
When Pakistani police took Davis into custody on January 27th, he had on his person an ordinary American passport with a valid ordinary Pakistan visa, issued by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington. On January 28th, a member of the US Consulate wanted the Pakistani police to exchange that passport in Davis’ possession with another one. The fresh passport being offered was a diplomatic passport with a valid diplomatic visa dated sometime in 2009. This visa was stamped in Islamabad by the FO!
It gets ridiculously funnier. The prosecutor representing the Punjab government has presented two letters from the US Embassy as evidence before the Lahore High Court, forwarded to the Punjab government through the FO. The first letter, dated January 27, reads: “Davis is an employee of the US Consulate General Lahore and holder of a diplomatic passport.” The second, dated February 3rd, states that Davis is a member of the “administrative and technical staff of the US Embassy Islamabad!” Just how gullible do the Americans take Pakistanis to be!
Before moving on to the political implications for Pakistan, were Davis to be granted immunity, it is important to review some domestic impediments, without which, he would never have been taken into custody.
Asif Ali Zardari might be a politically empowered president domestically, but if the US asked him to jump, he would ask “how high?” If they asked him to bend over, he would ask, “how low?” Had Davis committed the murders in Islamabad, under federal jurisdiction, he would have been flown out of the country within hours of his crime before any furor could have time to develop. But he slaughtered his victims in Lahore, in the jurisdiction of the Punjab state government, manned by the PML(N), which is Zardari’s party’s main opposition.
Despite repeated and numerous requests from the US Embassy and the Federal government, the Punjab government has stood firm and has even denied Davis the comforts normally afforded a political prisoner. Instead, Davis has the same facilities that any common Pakistani criminal has, in the rather notorious Kot Lakpat jail in Lahore (though he is being separated from the general prison population for his own safety).
Then there is the superior judiciary; the Supreme Court (SC), which awaits Davis with sleeves rolled up, more than ready to ensure justice in defiance of Zardari’s wishes. Meanwhile, Davis has already been indicted before the Lahore High Court (LHC), which has extended his judicial remand in police custody to allow time for more interrogation. Therefore, even if the LHC could be intimidated, an appeal before the SC is inevitable.
Finally there is the Pakistani Pentagon, the General Headquarters, commonly known as GHQ. Now that it is a fairly accepted fact in Pakistan that Davis is guilty of anti-Pakistan activities and has killed two members of an intelligence agency, probably the well-known Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), GHQ will have a say in his disposal. Consequently, despite Zardari’s desire to please the US, he may find himself hamstrung.
Under Pakistani law, there is provision for “Blood Money,” i.e. that the next of kin can accept monetary remuneration and then pardon the killer before the court. Despite pressure brought to bear on the families of Zeeshan and Faheem, the ill-fated pair that was murdered, both families have unanimously refused to accept Blood Money. In fact, tempers are running so high that local wealthy businessmen have publicly urged them to refuse, with the promise that they would match any sum offered to them by the US!
When rumors were floating that the US might cut a deal, offering Aafiya Siddique–the Pakistani scientist convicted in the US of attempting to murder two US interrogators and now serving a controversial 86-year sentence– in exchange for Davis, Siddique’s own family refused to accept her back on these terms and spoke to local dailies urging the Punjab government not to release Davis for any reason.
Based on all of the above, I personally doubt that Davis’ immunity plea will be accepted. However, if despite everything, his claim were accepted, what would be the political repercussions?
That’s the million-dollar question!
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known in the US media as the Pakistan Taliban, has issued a warning to the government of dire consequences if Davis is released. That would mean suicide attacks, murder and mayhem would immediately follow his release. Targets might well include any judges involved in the decision.
The youth of Pakistan–who rose to a pedestal in my eyes during last year’s floods, when young boys and girls defied our social taboos (sometimes even parental edicts) in the hundreds of thousands, spending many nights away from home so as to assist those affected by the floods and demonstrating courage, determination, warmth, and patriotism of a level I had not expected–have again joined hands over this case.
They can be found in droves on the web; exhorting the Pakistan government to refuse US aid, promising to raise donations from their resources and the public if the US cuts it off, and urging the government to withstand US pressure and refuse Davis immunity. They are also vowing that if immunity is granted, a youth movement of unprecedented proportions will start and, that like the historic Long March for the restoration of the judiciary in March 2009, which could have toppled the PPP government, this youth movement will succeed in toppling the government, where the Long March let it off the hook when its demands were met.
It’s not just the youth either. Every shopkeeper, cab driver, vendor and ordinary laborer that I have spoken with is unanimous in expressing the view that they will rise to demonstrate and overthrow this government, if Davis is granted immunity.
When the Egyptian People Power revolution started, I explained to a number of friends, local and foreign, why it was unlikely to spread to Pakistan. If Davis is granted immunity, though, I am more than likely to be proven wrong. Here too, as in Egypt, it is more than likely that GHQ will refuse to turn their guns on the demonstrators. But the fall of the PPP government might be the least of our concerns.
Despite the numerical increase in what used to be an infinitesimally small number of Islamic extremists, I have argued forcefully that there is, for the immediate future, no fear of Islamic forces becoming dominant in Pakistan. I have frequently cited the unanimous support for the military in the use of force against TTP–support which persists to date, despite suicide attacks. In fact, each suicide attack increases the determination of the people to fight terrorists.
Davis, however, could change that. Granting him immunity, in my opinion, could be the sole act that could provide an excuse for militant Islam to become dominant in Pakistan.
So, tread carefully, Mr Obama. You have already made one blunder by stoking unrest in Pakistan, using Raymond Davis, or whatever his name is, and his ilk, and have been caught with both hands in the cookie jar. But in trying to avoid the repercussions of this blunder, you could commit another of even more disastrous proportions–one that would reverberate around the world. You could create the realization of your own worst nightmare: a nuclear Pakistan dominated by religious extremist forces.
It might still not happen this way, but the path you are treading certainly is one that leads in the direction of converting that nightmare into reality.