Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

An American in Pakistani custody

February 11, 2011


Who exactly is Raymond Davis, the main at the centre of a flaming row between the United States and Pakistan that threatens to derail ties altogether ? It’s an obvious question to ask given the lengths the Obama administration has gone to secure the release of Davis held in Pakistan for shooting and killing two men who he said were trying to rob him. As Reuters reported this week, Washington had put on hold some bilateral engagements, and even hinted that a $7.5  billion civillian aid package could be jeopardised if Islamabad continued to hold Davis disregarding his diplomatic immunity. The New York Times and the Washington Post said a much-sought after state visit by President Asif Ali Zardari planned for the end of March was on the line now. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cancelled a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at an international security conference in Munich late last month, the Post said.

The Americans are saying Davis is a diplomat and hence arresting him is a violation of international norms and the Vienna Conventions.  The U.S. embassy had initially identified him as a staff member of the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Lahore where the incident occured.

Pakistanis on the other hand are outraged by the incident, seeing it as another case where the Americans are acting with impunity in their country. Not only are they conducting air strikes in an ever widening arc in the troubled northeast corner of the country, but they also operating in the streets of  the largest cities unchallenged, they feel.  Religious parties which have long condemned U.S. involvement in the country have hit the streets demanding that the government  stand firm against U.S. calls to release the man.

 A Lahore court has barred the government from handing over Davis to U.S. custody.  It says it will decide whether he had diplomatic immunity or not. On Friday the court extended his remand by another 14 days, infuriating the Americans further.

The facts of the case are so heavily disputed that its hard to say anything with finality The question is not only who Davis is but  there are also questions about the identity of the two men he killed. Katharine Tiedemann  of Foreign Policy’s AFPAK channel  recounts  the things that the United States and Pakistan disagree  over in this pareticular case. What does he do ? Who did he shoot ?. How did he shoot them ? Does he or does not have diplomatic status ?

And then why did he shoot them even if it was robbery ? And then of course as the Pakistanis are asking, how dare he shoot them ?

Given the explosive mood in the street where anti-U.S. sentiment is  already so strong, the bigger question is why is America ready to go against the tide of public opinion in Pakistan ?    Especially why so openly ? At a time when it is struggling with the uprising in Egypt, another ally, the last thing it would want is a similar crisis in Pakistan, another country where it is shoring up an unpopular government,  Selig Harrison says the United States must accept Pakistan’s handling of  the case for now, in order to defuse public opinion.  America must continue its covert war against al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan , but without lighting the fuse of public fury against it.

Or has Washington reached a point where it has had enough of forging a cooperative relationship with its conflicted ally ?  As we wrote this week, the standoff over the U.S. shooter is only one of a series of issues that has opened a deep divide between the two countries. Despite U.S. calls, Pakistan hasn’t gone after the Afghan Taliban sheltered on its soil whether it is the Quetta shura in Baluchistan or the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.  Far from reining in its nuclear ambitions in a dangerous regional environment, Pakistan has by all accounts actually increased the size of its nuclear arsenal to the point that it may soon overtake Britain as the world’s fifth largest nuclear power.  That makes a mockery of Western fears of the risk of  militant groups sneaking material away from its nuclear facilities.

And despite billions of dollars of aid and an IMF loan programme to keep its economy afloat, Pakistan has failed to implement the reforms that are necessary to put its books in order over the longer term. So why should Washington indulge  a country that looks less an ally and more an obstacle in its fight against militant groups.

And from Pakistan, America must look, by now, a bigger problem than even the traditional enemy India. It has lost more men in the fight against militants than the number of troops the United States has lost in the 10-year war in Afghanistan, and yet its commitment to the fight has been repeatedly questioned.  It has allowed the United States to run what must be the world’d's largest covert air campaign agsinst al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwest region, and yet America is not satisfied. From time to time American commanders speak of taking the fight deeper into Pakistan including attacking the Quetta shura. 

Even more galling must be Washington’s efforts to forge a strategic relationship with arch rival India and turn it into a global power, while making demands on Pakistan that often ran counter to its interest. Thus while it ended India’s nuclear isolation by signing  a  nuclear cooperation agreement despite New Delhi’s weapons programme, it refused Pakistan a similar deal.  Worse, many in Pakistan believe that a key part of the U.S. agenda is to defang its nuclear prowess. That, to most Pakistanis, is not the sign of friendship.


Pakistan will be the place where nuclear terror is unleashed for the last time.

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