Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Behind the scenes of Raymond Davis' release


As March 16th dawned over Pakistan, perhaps no one except for the powers-that-be realized that Raymond Davis would soon be free.

Earlier in the morning, the Lahore Sessions Court had indicted Davis, a CIA contractor, for murder, after he allegedly shot dead Faizan Haider and Mohammad Faheem in Lahore this past January 27.
Hours later, the news broke that Davis was a free man, after he paid blood money to the families of Faizan and Faheem. According to Geo News, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah announced that the families had forgiven Davis, and been paid blood money under the Shariah law of Qisas and Diyat

Another report aired on the channel said that 18 members of both families had announced in front of the judge in Kot Lakhpat jail that they had forgiven Raymond Davis, after which cash was handed over to the families. However, the families' lawyer Asad Manzoor Butt told Geo News that they were forcibly made to forgive Davis, after being led to jail by a man without identification.

Munawar Hasan, leader of the right-wing religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, reacted to the news by accusing the government of being slaves of the United States. "They should know that traitor governments do not last for very long," he said. "They have mocked the law, and the families were forcibly made to sign the Diyat document. Davis was involved with terrorist organizations, and yet they have let him go. The ISI claims to love the country, but they sell people to the States in exchange for dollars, they have failed in their love for the nation today." Hasan says protests against the release of Raymond Davis will be held in the major cities of Pakistan.

Conflicting reports have emerged about how much money has been paid to the families. Sources on various TV channels aired figures ranging from Rs. 60 million to Rs. 200 million (approximately $700,000 to $2,350,000). Davis' whereabouts are also unknown - Dunya News said he had flown to the United States, whereas Geo News claimed he had flown to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Another story attributed to "sources" on Geo News also said that Faizan's widow Zehra had allegedly left for the United States.

Ahsan Iqbal, member of the PML-N, a major opposition party in Pakistan headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, told me in a telephone interview:
What has happened is between the families of the victims and the court and the law, if they have settled for the blood money under the law, then it is the law of the land. If the court has made a judgment we cannot challenge the judgement. However, it also shows that Davis didn't enjoy diplomatic immunity and his case was settled under Pakistan's law and not under the clauses of the diplomatic immunity.
Najam Sethi, a TV anchor and journalist, claimed on TV and Twitter that Punjab's Chief Minister and PML-N leader (and Nawaz Sharif's brother) Shahbaz Sharif had been involved in the negotiations between both parties. However, Iqbal denied the story to me, saying, "It has been very categorically clarified that Punjab government had nothing to do with the settlement, it is between the families and the accused."

Retired General Talat Masood, a defence analyst, told me that that Davis' release is a consequence of the smoothing over of relations between the CIA's and the ISI. "It's a good development, it demonstrates that both have come to an understanding about how they will operate with each other, and co-operate in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The ISI has also determined certain boundaries about how the CIA will operate in the country." Masood says that this was a difficult decision for Pakistan for many reasons, which include changing the Pakistan-U.S. relationship from co-operative to confrontational, and then dealing with the right-wing and religious parties' aggressive stance on Raymond Davis.

A senior security official in Pakistan, speaking under condition of anonymity, told me that, "The Americans had been working on this, they thought that this (the diyat law) was the only way out." And ISI and CIA relations? "The ISI has laid down their terms for reengagement of certain areas where they felt they'd been bypassed, and the other side realized that they needed them. Both agencies need each other."

While rumours and more conspiracy theories continue to swirl in the air, it is evident that Pakistan has emerged as the biggest winner from Davis' strange and sordid case. While the religious parties may cry themselves hoarse over sovereignty of the country and rule of law, the ISI in particular has the upper hand here, and has impressed upon the CIA to make it clear that they cannot run a network under the noses of the powerful spy agency. To use tennis lingo: Advantage: ISI. What happens in the next round is anyone's guess.

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