Davis’ release unlikely to trigger anti-govt protests

The CIA contractor Raymond Davis flew out of Pakistan on Wednesday evening after being freed by a Lahore court following payment of ‘diyat’ or blood money to relatives of two Pakistani youth he had shot dead in January. His release ended a crucial phase of the high drama that had gripped the nation for nearly two months with serious strategic, economic and political implications. In the next phase, the government has to cope with the public reaction and the embarrassment it faces in the aftermath.

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Published: Fri 18 Mar 2011, 11:46 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 11:11 PM

The simple official narrative of Wednesday’s developments began with Davis’ indictment by a sessions judge in Lahore’s Kotlakhpat jail for double murder and possession of illegal arms. In the meantime, 18 relatives of Davis’ two victims appeared before the court with written affidavits that they have pardoned him after accepting about Rs200 million as ‘diyat’ or blood money that was paid in the court. The judge acquitted Davis under the Islamic law which is part of the Pakistan Penal Code. He was then whisked away from the jail premises under stringent security to Lahore airport where an American plane flew him to Bagram Airbase before the media knew what had actually happened.

The entire episode understandably was wrapped in bizarre camouflage.

The non-transparent manner in which the US spy was freed has mystified many Pakistanis. Public outrage after the passions aroused by the media and some political groups during the last two months was duly anticipated. However, so far it has remained within manageable limits. There have been some sporadic protest demonstrations in various cities by groups mainly belonging to right wing Jamaat-e-Islami and Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf. More rallies are planned for Friday which may attract larger participation than has been witnessed. But it is unlikely to generate any massive anti-government or anti-American agitation to unsettle the government. Religious elements have been assuaged by maintaining that the settlement has been worked out under an Islamic law.

“The Raymond Davis episode is nothing more than yet another vintage Pakistani drama,” a dejected analyst commented on a TV channel while recalling how previous governments in the 1990s and Gen. Pervez Musharraf after 9/11 had despatched hundreds of people to the United States in return for substantive compensation.

Davis affair severely tested already tense Pakistan-US ties, made worse by the brazen pressure exerted by the US, including threat to snap strategic talks and aid cut. Intervention by President Barack Obama also mystified people about the importance being attached to an otherwise non-diplomatic employee. It raised nagging questions about his mission and other members of his network whose identity and scope of activities were not shared even with country’s main spy agency, the ISI. It further stoked existing strains between the CIA and the ISI. The ISI played on the American anxiety in seeking Raymond Davis release by encouraging media and political reaction in order to strike an advantageous bargain. Once the terms were agreed by both sides the final settlement was facilitated in collaboration with all concerned including the federal and provincial governments and, not the least, the judiciary.

Apparently, the US has paid a price by giving up its insistence on diplomatic immunity; agreed to release of funds blocked during the crisis; dismantle the clandestine network of secret agents it had built within Pakistan to locate Al Qaeda and Taleban militants by assigning this task to the ISI. The Pakistan army has vowed a more credible operation in North Waziristan. The military also vindicated American position on drone attacks by publicly stating that these have killed more terrorists than common citizens. “It is a sensible arrangement that should satisfy all concerned,” says political analyst Najm Sethi. Bilateral relations would be restored to normality after revival of the stalled strategic dialogue.


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