Non-NATO alliance melting?
by Sandhya Jain on 01 Mar 2011 20 Comments

The month-long face-off between Islamabad and Washington over the arrest of undercover CIA agent Raymond Davis for murdering two ISI operatives on 27 Jan. in Lahore could trigger the collapse of American influence in the region. Even if ties are mended for now, the White House will have to revisit its Afghanistan strategy and its animosity towards Iran, which is emerging as a regional hegemon. The Saudi royalty that could have mediated with Islamabad is itself under pressure.


The Arab uprising against US-friendly dictatorships that facilitated the loot of oil wealth by western multinationals has certainly influenced Islamabad’s refusal to grant Davis full diplomatic immunity. This has ruptured communications between the ISI and CIA; the White House had already suspended high-level dialogue with Pakistan, putting on hold President Asif Zardari’s proposed visit to Washington in March.


Davis, a private security contractor with Blackwater/Xe, was posted at the American Embassy in Pakistan (with a work visa) when he shot dead two Pakistanis in ‘self-defense’ after they tried to ‘rob’ him. But Lahore Police said Davis confessed that after shooting the men, he stepped out of his car to photograph one of them and then called the US Consulate for help. Police said the victims were shot several times in the back (meaning murder).


Public opinion was incensed when a youth on a motorcycle was crushed by a Toyota Land Cruiser that raced down the wrong side of a one-way street to rescue Davis. A snag in his vehicle enabled police to nab Davis, but the Land Cruiser managed to enter the US embassy compound; both vehicle and driver were rushed out of the country, to the chagrin of the Pakistani government and people. Emotions heightened when the wife of one victim died in hospital after consuming poison and telling the media she wanted ‘blood for blood’.

Police recovered a private pistol, bullets, a camera, cell phones, a sophisticated wireless set and some dollars from Davis. The camera reputedly had photographs of bunkers on an eastern border fort at Waris Road (where an Army Unit was once based), sensitive buildings and locations. Scrutiny of the mobile phones showed Davis was in touch with various Taliban groups.


As the matter was highly sensitive, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, President Zardari and Army Chief Pervez Kayani decided to let the judiciary handle the case on merits. Despite US threats to halt the $7.5 billion five-year civilian aid to their cash-starved nation, the trio resisted pressure to release Davis on grounds of diplomatic immunity. Washington suffered a setback when the Lahore High Court gave the regime until March 14 to decide Davis’ immunity.


Islamabad is examining why Davis was roaming Lahore with a loaded pistol, photographing sensitive sites; if the two ISI agents were killed because Davis feared he had been compromised by their surveillance; and if he was helping Al-Qaeda and was linked to the abduction and killing of Col (retd.) Imam.


Resenting CIA’s attempts to penetrate the ISI and learn more about its nuclear programme, Pakistan was monitoring the CIA’s counterterrorism activities. It said Davis’ visa application contained bogus references and phone numbers, taking advantage of a government order to Pakistan Embassy staff in Washington, Britain, and the UAE to issue visas without normal vetting by the Interior Ministry and the ISI. This opened the floodgates, and the CIA sent in operatives not known to Islamabad (‘contract spies’), which strained ties. Pakistan is now reexamining these visas.


According to Express Tribune, Lahore, Davis was close to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The New York Times claimed Davis “was part of a covert, CIA-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country”. Pakistani officials said Davis was recruiting youth from Punjab for the Taliban to fuel the bloody insurgency. He was allegedly working on a plan to legitimize American fears that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe, and creating a Taliban group to do his bidding.


Davis functioned under a secret deal made by then President Musharraf in 2006, which allowed covert CIA operations through private security firms like Blackwater/Xe Worldwide and DynCorp to spy on the Taliban and al Qaeda. But Pakistan intelligence found he had developed close links with the TTP.


Other sources said Davis’ CIA team was tracking the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group Pakistan uses in its proxy war with India, but which Washington regards as a threat to allied troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan is upset as LeT has longstanding ties with ISI. The CIA was also investigating madrasas in the region.


Express Tribune hinted that Islamabad’s tough stance on Davis reflected anger at Washington implicating the ISI in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, and the decision by a New York City court to summon top ISI official, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in connection with the attacks. In retaliation, Islamabad exposed the identity of the CIA’s top clandestine officer in Pakistan, forcing him to leave the country.


Pakistan is under immense pressure from its civilian population to make America pay for the drone attacks in tribal areas. Releasing Davis could bring the anti-government protests sweeping the Gulf-North Africa to the streets of Islamabad. Should such an uprising happen, retired officers warn that the military will refuse to take sides and allow the Zardari government to fall. This could trigger the rise of militant Islam to power in Pakistan, they warn. As Washington needs Pakistan to supply its 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, it cannot push too hard.


But it is a volatile peace. Some militant and religious groups are demanding Davis be tried in Pakistani courts and hanged for his crime. Perhaps Washington will buy peace with the victims’ families through a handsome compensation (blood money, permissible under Islamic and Pakistani law).  


Regardless how things are finally resolved, US-Pakistan ties can never be the same again. Nor will Afghanistan settle by White House diktat. Afghanistan and Pakistan have become more unstable, and the neighbourhood more uncongenial for Uncle Sam.


New Delhi, which made the grim mistake of annoying Iran (with consequences for our oil security) and welcoming continued American presence in Afghanistan (knowing it is the graveyard of empires), should urgently rework the mindless policy of following America without regard to the national interest. India is not a client state. The auto-colonialism of its ruling elite cannot be allowed to compromise the Republic.


The author is Editor,

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