The Raymond Davis Drama

Looks like the North Waziristan operation will be postponed again

From the very beginning, it was hard to shake off the suspicion that the Raymond Davis affair involved covert operatives from both the United States and Pakistan. That Mr Davis was engaged in diplomacy by other means should have been clear to anyone with a passing familiarity of the business (attained, perhaps, by the study of the scholarly works of David John Moore Cornwell or Ian Lancaster Fleming). Once the US embassy confirmed that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity it was a matter of pedantic or professional interest as to whether he worked for the CIA, DHA, State Department or indeed was a private security contractor employed by the US government.

But what was less discussed, at least until a couple of days ago, was that the two Pakistanis men (referred to as ‘youths’ or ‘boys’ in the Pakistani media) he killed might have also been engaged in diplomacy by other means. (Incidentally, Express Tribune pulled the initial report, here’s the cached article). Diplomats and foreign journalists who have served in Pakistan are familiar with such diplomacy, not infrequently conducted from a motorcycle. It would be of pedantic or professional interest as to whether they worked for the ISI, Intelligence Bureau or some other “agency”.

It is possible that the dust-up between Mr Davis and the two Pakistanis was the result of the escalation of free and frank discussions to a higher calibre. It is also possible that the two Pakistanis, and one of their innocent counterparts, lost their lives in the risky venture of creating a dust-up.

Consider. There are two possibilities why Lahore police would arrest a white American man who identified himself as US diplomat with immunity. First, that they were told to do so by higher authorities. Second, that the local authorities were so radically anti-American—consistent with general public sentiment—that they were willing to disregard claims of diplomatic immunity, and brazen out the consequences. This is unlikely, not least because it would mean some people would lose their jobs in the process.

General Kayani’s guidance to the interior minister reminding him to keep Mr Davis’ military background in mind supports the hypothesis that the military-jihadi complex instigated this drama. Why?

That is hard to say. It is, however, the biggest beneficiary of the crisis. Politically, it is the Zardari government—which it has no love for—that is on the ropes, caught between an increasingly tough Washington and an increasingly anti-American public sentiment. Even if the matter is resolved in a few days’ time by getting the judiciary to affirm his diplomatic immunity, the episode can be offered as a reason, yet again, for the Pakistani army to avoid launching the much delayed operation against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in North Waziristan. The overall rise in temperature works to call for a reduction in US drone attacks, using the argument that doing so is necessary to lower anti-American feelings.

The Pakistani military leadership calculates that the United States can suspend bilateral relations or aid for a short while, but overall, the risk of a permanent break is low. It is not wrong. That is why it can afford to rock the boat—with terrorist attacks or diplomatic dramas—to pre-empt US coercion. After all, for the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, poking the United States in the eye is less risky compared to having to really fight itself.

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Related Link: Najam Sethi has an excellent analysis of the affair.