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February 6, 2011

US-Pak relations: terms of estrangement


February 6, 2011

The case of Raymond Davis has outraged most Pakistanis and raised nagging questions about the nature of the US role in Pakistan, about the integrity of powerful sections of the media and intelligentsia, and about the political opportunism of the ruling PPP and PMLN governments in Islamabad and Lahore respectively. Ominously, the strategic US-Pak relationship is fraying with unforeseen consequences for both.
The US has stationed dozens of armed intelligence agents in Pakistan. These belong to the CIA – which is a part of the US state – or Blackwater-type private security or intelligence companies specifically contracted to the State Department or to the Pentagon. These men and women have been granted visas by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) on the basis of a protocol signed during General Pervez Musharraf’s time after 9/11. Many, though not all, carry diplomatic passports with “official” or “official business” visas granted by the GoP following formal requests by one or the another US agency or department. Some are attached to the US Embassy in Islamabad, others to the Consulates. Some have formal diplomatic (status) cards issued by the Foreign Office, others don’t, which makes their diplomatic status vague despite their possession of diplomatic passports. Some carry firearms and fake IDs – which is known to the relevant GoP ministries and military intelligence agencies, firearm licenses or not – and others don’t. In other words, ambiguity about their status, work, and facilities afforded are duly maintained jointly by the US and Pakistani governments and intelligence agencies like the CIA and ISI.
That, at least, is the theory. In practice, however, the GoP retains a conscious element of “plausible deniability” about the status and work of such Americans. This is akin to the theory and practice of publicly protesting and privately condoning drone attacks, as one recent incriminating Wikileak revealed. We may also recall how

provincial police, including military police, have often, in the past, stopped vehicles with tinted windows or windscreens and false number plates, but have been helpless against armed Americans inside these vehicles on account of interventionist phone calls from powerful officials in Islamabad. The rules of such discourse have not been made public. That is why there is so much anguish and outrage in the media and public against the Americans “who are so brazenly breaking the law of the land” when, in fact, they are doing so with the knowledge, connivance and even approval of the civilian government and military authorities.
Therefore the chronicle of Raymond Davis was foretold. It was only a matter of time before an Iraq-type Blackwater incident of “shooting first and asking questions later” would happen somewhere in Pakistan. I warned against it in October 2009. Neither the Americans, nor the Pakistanis, it seems, have learnt any lessons. No Standard Operating Procedures for such operatives and operations (spies tasked to uncover terrorists) were laid down or made public, nor was their status exactly defined, let alone implemented.
For example, the tinted windows and windscreens, false number plates, and weapons in the vehicles are meant purely for security purposes (to deny recognition to any would-be terrorist and afford defense) and not for evasion of the law (the correct registration documents are always inside the car and can be produced at will). But this SOP hasn’t been properly conveyed to provincial policemen. Nor was the diplomatic status for immunity purposes of such agents clarified and coded by Pakistani and American authorities, just as in Iraq where such agents had to be secretly sent to the US by local authorities after every violent transgression of the laws of the land. Out of over 200 such incidents in Iraq during 2005-2007, over 160 incidents were characterised by US “private agents shooting first”, ostensibly for purposes of “self-defense” or “security”.
This explains the confusion in the statements issued by the American Embassy in Islamabad which first said that Davis was on “official business” contracted to the Consulate, and then changed it to the Embassy when a reading of the Vienna Conventions of 1961 and 1963 suggested that the question of diplomatic immunity might be affected by the consular or embassy status of the person involved, regardless of the diplomatic passport held. It also explains why a State Department official in Washington was wary of confirming whether the agent at the centre of the storm in Pakistan was in fact Raymond Davis or someone else under the guise of Raymond Davis. It also explains the reluctance of the Pakistani Foreign Office to make a clear statement about the diplomatic status of Davis regarding immunity from criminal prosecution.
To make matters worse, the issue quickly became a vicious ping-pong game between the PPP government in Islamabad and the PMLN government in Punjab. Each side has been trying to get brownie nationalist points from the people regardless of the consequences for the strategic US-Pak relationship and national security. If the Punjab government had consulted the federal government before formally arresting Davis and acceded to an informal request to hand him over to the Americans, there would have been no storm and the “Protocols of the Elders” would have remained hidden. Instead, the Punjab government immediately gave a statement that Davis would be tried for murder in a court of law unless the federal government took responsibility for him and confirmed his diplomatic immunity. When the FO dithered, the Punjab government appointed a public prosecutor who immediately went public with his “strong case” against Davis by consciously distorting the facts of the shootout. Unfortunately, the more the Punjab government delighted in the discomfort of the federal government and exploited the media and public outrage, the more the federal government in general, and the FO in particular, retreated behind a smokescreen of feigned ignorance and wounded pride. Privately, the Punjab government has told the US embassy that it is ready to facilitate Davis’s release if the FO makes a statement in court that Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity!
The role of the media and intelligentsia, in general, is a case of deliberate distortion and outright lies. The fiction persists that Davis “murdered” two Pakistanis by shooting them in the back, despite an autopsy report that says four out of seven bullets hit the armed motorcyclists in the front. The fiction persists that they were “innocent citizens” despite the fact that they had robbed two passersby earlier in the day, whose cash and cell-phones were found on their persons. The fiction persists that he was in no imminent danger of grievous injury, let alone kidnapping or death, despite the fact that foreigners, especially Americans, have been routinely targeted and killed or kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan in the last decade. No one, of course, has bothered to offer a motive for Davis to “murder” the two young men, and even talk of “proportionate” defense is misplaced. So where do we go from here?
The US has signaled distinct annoyance with the GoP. A cool reception was accorded by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani in this weekend’s trilateral meeting in Munich. Ambassador Hussain Haqqani has been summoned to the White House and lectured on the virtues of state maturity and reciprocity. The Af-Pak border in Waziristan has heated up, with one Pakistani soldier having been killed in clashes with US-Afghan troops on the border. The IMF has hardened its stance. President Asif Zardari’s proposed trip to Washington and one-0n-one with President Obama in March stands threatened. A go-slow could also impact Coalition Support Funds and US$2 billion worth of weapons in the pipeline for the Pakistan military and $1.5 billion from the Kerry-Lugar Bill for the civilian government of Pakistan.
The sooner this matter is sorted out, the better it is for both countries. Additionally, the rules of US-Pak engagement involving state and non-state actors must be made explicit for the media and public, without hypocrisy and doublespeak. No state’s national interest can be served by passion or prejudice, regardless of the affront or hurt. It is in the national interest of Pakistan to retain a strategic relationship with the United States. However, the US must stop pressuring Pakistan to accept armed, trigger-happy cowboys on intelligence operations as unaccountable diplomats. If this practice continues, there will be more outrage and anguish on the street, and both Pakistan and the US will be the net losers.
The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

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