Story of a spy

Updated July 05, 2017


The very title of the book is deceptive. Where is the mention of a CIA agent in The Contractor, authored by Raymond Davis, the American spy? Davis was at the centre of an infamous murder incident in Lahore in 2011 that brought relations between Islamabad and Washington to a new low. The book does not tell us anything new.

It is not even a half-truth and certainly not worth commenting on had it not generated such political controversy. Badly written and arrogant in its tenor, the book should have been trashed, but this certainly would not happen in this country.

Accepting it as gospel truth, many politicians are using it for political point-scoring and overzealous TV commentators are trying to draw their own inferences. Going one step forward, Imran Khan has prescribed the book as a ‘must read’ for his followers.

Surely there is no harm in reading any book — but at least the context should have been made clear. I am quite sure that most of these politicians making generous comments would not have even bothered to read it, let alone understood its background.

Interestingly, the entire debate has been reduced to the dubious handling of the Davis court case and ‘blood money’ as the means to get him out. But was not all that known before? The sordid deal happened in public and was widely reported by the Pakistani media. Indeed, the whole episode was extremely embarrassing. One, however, fails to understand why the account of the event by a CIA agent, implicated in a murder case, should generate such a political stir today, six years on.

What is missing in the debate is that the Davis incident blew the cover of the wide CIA network in Pakistan.

Most intriguing, however, is that the contents of the book were on WhatsApp and the web just hours after its publication. It is indeed unprecedented. So who put it on the web and why? What about the copyright? No one seems to have any explanation for this generous distribution of the book that would have had very few readers in this country otherwise. One may not believe in conspiracy theories, but it does raise questions.

What is missing in the whole debate is that the Davis incident in 2011 blew the cover of the wide CIA network operating clandestinely in Pakistan. Hundreds of operatives had sneaked into the country over the past one year under the cover of contractors and embassy officials that had intensified the cold war between ISI and the CIA.

A lenient visa policy had certainly helped them enter Pakistan. They were separate from the official CIA operatives working in the country with the Pakistani government’s approval. There had been several incidents where the CIA operatives were intercepted while driving in Islamabad or in Peshawar. But they were allowed to go on the intervention of top-level officials. No one wanted to rock the boat.

This cat-and-mouse game had brought tensions between the two agencies to a head. A few months before the Davis incident, the CIA station chief in Islamabad was forced to leave after his name was made public. It was certainly meant to send a message to the Americans. And yet the CIA’s clandestine activities could not be stopped.

It was against this background that the Lahore murders took place. It still remains a mystery why two motorcyclists were pursuing Davis through the streets of Lahore. According to Davis’s account, one was equipped with a high calibre pistol, “one of the most dangerous weapons you’re ever going to face”. Of course, they could not be petty burglars trying to rob him as the story went.

Some reports suggested that Davis knew them and that the killing happened over a dispute. His own comments in the book: “I wasn’t going to lose a bit of sleep over killing these two men”, reinforce the suspicion. It not only shows the cold-bloodedness, but also the arrogance of a man with a licence to kill. In his book The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times excellently described these new breed of CIA agents hired on contract: “The former Green Beret hired by the CIA for a manhunt in Pakistan was the face of an American spy agency that has been transformed. No longer a traditional espionage service devoted to stealing the secrets of foreign countries, the CIA has become a killing machine.”

Davis had arrived just few months before the incident, getting a visa on a diplomatic passport with a vague job description, though he was not notified as a diplomat enjoying immunity. But American officials insisted on his diplomatic credentials despite the fact that his cover had already been blown.

Immediately after, then ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha (who has been profusely praised by Davis in his book) reportedly called his CIA counterpart Leon Panetta asking him if he was working for the agency. Panetta denied that he was, thus closing the window for any early resolution of the crisis. The situation became more complicated when President Obama called for the release of the US ‘diplomat’. Some hectic behind-the-scenes negotiations helped bring the Davis affair to a close.

Interestingly, in a recently published book The Exile, Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistan ambassador to the US, has been quoted claiming that it was his idea to resolve the issue through paying blood money. “I gave the idea to Panetta. And I gave the idea to Pasha,” Haqqani said.

It is obvious that all the stakeholders including the federal and the Punjab government were on board regarding the resolution of the crisis. But another more important issue missing in the discussions is that the deal to let Davis go also involved pulling out hundreds of undercover CIA operatives from Pakistan.

There is surely no such detail in the Davis book that would expose his clandestine activities and the CIA’s covert operations in Pakistan. Before the book’s contents are swallowed and false accusations and assertions are hurled, it would be important to unravel the whole truth.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2017