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    South Asia
     Mar 19, 2011


High cost to a devil's bargain
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - The deal hammered out between Pakistan and the United States that allowed American contractor Raymond Davis - facing charges of double murder - to be set free from jail in Lahore on Wednesday has brought to an end an unprecedented crisis between the two countries - and both sides are now counting the cost of the six-week saga.

Davis, 36, described by US officials as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contract bodyguard, was acquitted after a blood money settlement was agreed with the families of the victims. Davis shot and killed two men he said were trying to rob him in Lahore on January 27.

A senior Pakistani official said US$700,000 was paid by the CIA to each of the families. Pakistan's legal system allows the

 
families of murder victims to forgive an accused in exchange for monetary compensation.

A deal is made
Davis' arrest following the shootings precipitated a serious fallout between Pakistan and the US. The crisis centered on Washington's claim that he was entitled to diplomatic immunity, while the Pakistanis insisted the matter would run its course through the judicial system.

With tensions getting higher by the day amid threats and counter-threats, and progress in the Afghan war stalled for almost one-and-a-half months, the highest-level military commanders of the two sides finally sat down at a secluded resort in Oman on February 22 following intervention by Saudi Arabia.

The US was represented by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General David Petraeus, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan; Admiral Eric Olson, commander of US Special Operations Command; and US Marine Corps General James Mattis, commander of US Central Command, the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported.

The Pakistani delegation included General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, chief of army staff, and Major General Javed Iqbal, director general of military operations.

Three key players helped make the Oman meeting possible:
  • Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha, the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who had received a second one-year service extension only two days before Davis' release.
  • Pakistanís ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, a former professor at Boston University who is in a class of his own in terms of his wonderful rapport with US administrations. Haqqani had earlier convinced then-US president George W Bush to help replace military ruler Pervez Musharraf with current President Asif Ali Zardari.
  • United States Senator John Kerry.

    Haqqani sprang into action immediately the crisis broke and urged leaders on both sides to resolve the matter as soon as possible. He realized that sending threatening messages to Washington would be counter-productive. Already, the US had excluded Pakistan from strategic talks on Afghanistan, held in Washington on February 23-25. Haqqani was certain that any delay in reconciliation would further isolate Pakistan.

    However, a segment of Pakistan's military read the situation from a different angle, arguing that at a critical juncture in Afghanistan and given the extremely volatile situation in the Middle East, Washington could not afford to make any lopsided decisions against Pakistan. They were also aware of the intense feelings the case had aroused on the street.

    On February 5, Pakistan celebrated Kashmir Day. The Jamaatut Dawa (JuD), the new name of the banned Laskhar-e-Taiba, renowned for its jihadi activities in Indian-administered Kashmir and blamed for the massive attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008, was at the forefront of street rallies. Later, after Kerry visited Pakistan, the JuD stepped up its activities, with its chief, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, personally leading rallies and demanding the hanging of Davis.

    "It appears that in the crisis over Davis, Pakistan is mainstreaming terror organizations like Jamaatut Dawa and the whole process for clipping the wings of jihadi organizations under American pressure after 9/11 seems to be reversing," a senior Indian official told Asia Times Online at the time.

    India, along with Afghanistan and even Russia, was concerned that Pakistan's non-cooperation in the American war in Afghanistan could lead to trouble in the region if international Islamic outlaws were given more freedom to move.

    Washington's concerns grew when ISI chief Pasha instructed Haqqani to send a message loud and clear that the era of unstinting intelligence operations with foreign agencies in Pakistan was over.

    The ISI had already implemented a "counter-intelligence operation" on all Western diplomats, which meant round-the-clock physical surveillance. As a result, CIA operations in Pakistan were deeply affected. Earlier, such surveillance had been limited to Indian, Iranian, Russian and Afghan diplomats.

    After 9/11, the CIA and the ISI agreed to share intelligence. However, the CIA established its own offices and only informed the ISI before conducting any operation. After the fall of Musharraf's regime in 2008, the CIA spread its tentacles further by bringing in private defense contractors who hired local Pakistanis. This was a breach of the post 9/11 agreement and a direct intervention in Pakistan.

    From 2009, Pakistan started to react, but in a very cautious matter. It refused to issue visas to non-diplomatic staff of the US Embassy, and the counter-intelligence initiative was begun.

    Once the Davis episode broke, Pakistan took the bull by the horns and told the Americans that the CIA's presence in Pakistan would have to be administrative only, restricted to the four walls of their consulates and embassies, from where they would only write reports on Pakistan. All intelligence operations would be dealt solely through the ISI.

    Pakistan did everything to bring the Americans into line. It refused to launch military operations in the North Waziristan tribal area against al-Qaeda and militants, and it retained ceasefire agreements with militants despite them carrying out attacks on Pakistan. It allowed right-wing religious organizations to mobilize cadre in anti-America rallies. Pakistan also allowed tribals to go to Islamabad and break the cover of a CIA station chief in Islamabad and it allowed the court and police to rough up an American defense contractor.

    The American administration became nervous over Pakistan changing horses in midstream, especially with the summer battle in Afghanistan just weeks away. Washington refused to cave in, but its threats to cut off the vast military aid it gave to Pakistan were not made from a position of strength.

    At this point Saudi Arabia stepped in, followed by the breakthrough in Oman. Pakistan was also promised a new deal, one in which it would play a more powerful strategic role in South Asia than India, and that in all intelligence dealings the ISI would have the upper hand in Pakistan.

    Pakistan, it would appear, was the winner in this diplomatic wrangle; the US the loser.

    Some senior Pakistani officials, however, believe that the country has a lot to lose. They argue that with the battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan about to begin in earnest, the US will insist that Islamabad crack down 3/18/2011in North Waziristan, or else it will do what it has to regardless of Pakistan's sensitivities.

    People in the street, knowing little of any strategic gains Pakistan might have acquired in the Davis case, will have their grievances, and perhaps even be emboldened in their distrust of the country's institutions by events in the Middle East and North Africa. In particular:
  • There is already resentment against the court for settling for the blood money option while not pursuing Davis under the Official Secrets Act as there were claims of him being on espionage operations or of possessing illegal weapons.
  • The country's two major political parties, the ruling Pakistan People's Party in Islamabad and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz in the province of Punjab where Davis was held, are perceived as having bowed to the Americans.
  • The Pakistan army is widely viewed as being too American-friendly, especially as the US backed the extension of Pasha's term as well as that of Kiani, who has just received an unprecedented three more years on the job.

    If agitation through mass rallies against US missions in Pakistan grows, it would inevitably turn against the major political parties, the judiciary, the military, and last but not least, against American interests in Pakistan.

    Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief and author of upcoming book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban, beyond 9/11 published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

    (Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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