The spy novel-like case of Raymond Davis

February 23, 2011

PAKISTAN-US/SHOOTINGRaymond Davis, an American who shot and killed two men in Lahore, Pakistan, under disputed circumstances, has just been revealed to be a CIA contractor. What a mess. And it’s a mess that makes me reflect on when I lived in Lahore, in the late 1980s.

Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan, home to writers, artists and intellectuals. Variously ruled in recent centuries by the Mughals, the Sikhs and the British during the Raj, Lahore is the great ancient city of the Punjab. There is magnificent old architecture, crazed and crowded marketplaces, sprawling slums. A sense of intrigue is part of the city’s lore, as one would feel in Marrakesh or Kathmandu.

Driving in the old-city areas of Lahore is unlike anything experienced in the West. Roads are bumper-to-bumper, drivers flagrantly disobey traffic laws — roaring the wrong way down a one-way street is practically normal. Davis said his car was wedged in by traffic, a common problem in the city, when he was approached by two men with guns. Having driven in the old-city areas of Lahore, I am sure that being in a wedged-in car and approached by armed men — roving thieves plague Pakistan, and there is nothing equivalent to the reliability of 911 — would be frightening. Whether Davis was justified in opening fire is something the courts must determine.

The revelation that Davis was working for the CIA has roiled Pakistan and embarrassed the United States, because Davis entered Pakistan on a diplomatic passport. Officially, such passports are only for diplomats and their dependents. On a practical basis, the United States and many other nations — surely, at some point, including Pakistan — grant diplomatic covers to intelligence agents. But when a bogus diplomatic status is exposed, this shames the nation involved. The United States looks extra-bad because after the shooting, American officials including President Barack Obama insisted Davis actually was a diplomat, a member of the administrative staff of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad.

Whether diplomatic immunity applies to Davis is a matter of keen debate. Often, intelligent agents caught in situations such as this are quietly spirited out of the country as the host government agrees to look the other way. Because the Davis case has stirred such controversy in Pakistan — was it really robbery, why did Davis fire so many times, what about the U.S. staff car that struck and killed a bystander while speeding toward Davis? — slipping him out of Pakistan would cause general outrage.

The case is controversial not only owing to Davis himself, but to the substantial CIA presence in Pakistan. American operatives are seeking al Qaeda figures on another nation’s soil, and are directing missile strikes on another nation’s soil. The Pakistani government is more-or-less cooperating with the United States against al Qaeda, but needed the presence of CIA operatives to remain, officially at least, a secret. Now that this is out in the open, Washington has placed the Pakistani government in an awkward position.


Imagine if Barack Obama signed a memo allowing agents of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate to operate on U.S, soil, including to fire missiles at houses where ISI believed terrorists were meeting, even if innocent bystanders are killed. Americans would be livid if Pakistani intelligence agents were given reign to act inside the United States. Yet that’s the agreement Pakistan has made regarding CIA operatives. Even if that agreement is in the interest of Pakistan, no one should be surprised that Pakistanis are livid.

The ISI almost surely knew Davis was in the CIA. This may simply have been disclosed, behind the scenes, when Davis arrived in Pakistan. If not, within U.S. embassy or consular environments, it just isn’t that hard to figure out which ones are the CIA people under diplomatic cover. They tend to behave differently than diplomats (often working at night, sleeping during the day), have different equipment in their offices, even drive distinctive types of cars. The local Lahore police who responded to the shooting wouldn’t have known who Davis was. But Pakistani intelligence had to know, and likely told Pakistani civilian authorities early on following the shooting whom they were really dealing with — as well as whether Davis’s account is credible.

You don’t have to be a spy novelist to wonder if Davis was lured into a trap by any of several bad actors, realized he was in an ambush and shot his way out. Or perhaps it will turn out that what really happened was a street robbery, the thieves choosing a man who surprised them by being well armed and who fired wildly because he was scared. The CIA being the CIA and Pakistan being Pakistan, the odds are there is more to this case than has yet emerged. For a thousand years, Lahore has been a city of intrigue. Adjust for modern touches such as the Glock and the GPS receiver, and Davis fits perfectly with Lahore’s tradition.

Photos; Top: Extended family members of Pakistanis who were killed hold an image of Raymond Davis, a U.S diplomat, and pictures of the men who were killed as they demand the hanging of Davis during a protest rally in Lahore February 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

Bottom: A supporter of the political party Tehreek-e-Insaf takes part in a protest against Raymond Davis (pictured in the background) in Lahore February 3, 2011. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood


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Interesting story. I wonder if we will come to know if the would-be assailants were ‘just’ robbers, or al Quaeda sympathisers.
Do street robbers usually carry weapons? Maybe they do. What weapons did they have?
I can understand a CIA operative being ready to defend himself like this, ‘cos that’s what he’s taught.

But the “street” won’t view the matter with sympathy, any more than it would if the reverse had happened on US soil, as you describe!

Posted by seymourfroggs | Report as abusive

There probably is more than meets the eye to this case, but for poor Davis, his fate seems to be in peariless hands at best. Our govt won’t be too pushy in trying to secure his release because e got her hand caught in the cookie jar. However, Davis should not be left to fend for himself. We should be adament in his securing his release. Poor, Mr. Davis. I bet Pakistan feels like a long long way from the hills of Southwest Virginia.

Posted by Greg33 | Report as abusive