By Mohammad Amer It looked like a scene from a Hollywood detective film. While driving in his car in a busy street of Lahore, an American took out his weapon and fired at two young men riding on a motorbike. The attacker stopped and emerged from his car. Then, using an even bigger automatic weapon, killed his antagonists, who were already injured and had fallen to the ground. The murdered Pakistanis were carrying weapons but they did not get a chance to pick these up and use them. In the meantime, elsewhere in Lahore, a black car with ‘tinted windows’ rushed to rescue the attacker. Hurrying on the wrong side of the road it crushed a passersby. However, before it could reach the attacker, the latter was arrested by the police.
The incident opened up a plethora of speculations and ambiguities about the official status of the killer, Raymond Davis, who, in the meantime, has become a household name in Pakistan. The American Consulate in Lahore first mentioned that Davis belonged to the ‘technical staff’ of the Consulate; a day later the American Embassy in Islamabad issued a ‘new list of officials,’ mentioning Davis as a ‘staff member’ enjoying diplomatic immunity from a trial in the host country, Pakistan. The White House refused to name the arrested ‘American official,’ which in practice meant that the ‘official’ was a CIA agent. However, it asked for his release due to his ‘diplomatic’ status. Later president Obama entered into the controversy when he personally recognized Davis as ‘our diplomat in Islamabad’ and asked the Pakistani government to ‘avoid any step’ to start criminal charges in a Pakistani court.
Such inconsistencies on the part of the American officials were equally shared by their counterparts among the Pakistani government. The ministers and officials of the ruling People’s Party (PPP) gave contradictory statements about the alleged ‘diplomatic immunity’ of Davis. The foreign minister was expelled from his post when he challenged the official soft line that his government had adopted towards the issue. The weak and corrupt PPP government, surviving on IMF regulations, was already unpopular due to economic downturn, rising commodity prices and, not least, due to its failure to contain the domestic consequences of the ‘war against terrorism’. The government ambiguities on the issue are translated as a ‘selling out’ by the right wing parties and media. It caused a wave of anti-American feelings already abundant among the masses.
Hunting down ‘Terrorists’
These fears and conspiracies were feed on the slow unfolding of events that depict the shadowy aspects of the ‘war against terrorism’. It soon turned out that Davis worked for an American ‘security firm’, that is named ‘Xe’ in the media, and which is the new face of the infamous Blackwater Worldwide which was once active in Iraq. Like its embedded character during the Iraq war, the US media, including the New York Times, covered the actual background of Davis as it might ‘jeopardize his safety in Pakistani jail’. Furthermore the incident refers to the war inside the ‘war against terror’ involving layers of Pakistani security and military establishment: it turned out that the two Pakistanis killed by Davis were working for the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, and they were following Davis diligently to know the broader network of the recent American involvement within Pakistani society. Contrary to the ‘double agenda’ of former military ruler Musharraf regarding his alleged ‘half-hearted fight against the Taliban-AlQaeda’ networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the civilian PPP government turned more supportive to the US in the ‘war against terrorism’. As part this shift, unknown numbers of American security officials were dispatched to work in Pakistan.
This high level of cooperation between the civilian government and the US was already a thorn in the side of the Pakistani military establishment—- who ruled the country for the longest part of its history. The civilian government is now presented as failing to protect the ‘national interests’ of the country, while the military is readjusting its image as the ‘only savior’ of the country. Such efforts are also meant to mystify the failings of the military and intelligence agencies in this affair. The military generals are again sitting at the table alongside their US counterparts and the spymasters behind the curtains, to reframe their positions on this issue. In the longer run the incident has further weakened the working sphere of the civil institutes in Pakistan.
Until recently, Raymond Davis awaited his lot in a Pakistani jail. A court was to decide about his ‘diplomatic immunity’. Pakistani media and its frenzied anchorpersons held daily Davis’ trials that already cost victims—- a widow of one of the murdered Pakistani men committed suicide due to the rumors that the Pakistani officials are sending Davis back to America. Indeed, Davis was released by the court on March 16th on the basis of the diyat laws. These laws allow for release of the prisoner after payment of compensation money from the offender to the offended party beyond the court decisions.
At another level the US and Pakistani military and security agencies are re-determining the perimeters of their involvement in this ‘war against terrorism’ in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It occurs in a shadow where international media is mostly focused on the political developments in the Middle East. The American shadows are clearing away from the heads of the long-time dictators in the Middle East. However, in South Asia the US is deep in the midst of its muddled support to undemocratic forces, and for the absurdities of the ‘war against terrorism’.
Mohammad Amer (“Morgahi”) is finishing his PhD at the SCA after the ISIM, the Leiden-based institute of Islam, was closed down. He has written previous posts for Standplaatswereld