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Saving Private Raymond

February 24, 2011

Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf take part in a rally against Raymond Davis on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. - Photo by AP

Raymond Davis must have spent one hell of a very lonely Valentine’s Day this year, banged up in a Lahore jail with only a foam pad on a cotton mattress for company. Compare his plight to Mumtaz Qadri, who was the lucky recipient of flowers, chocolates, and greeting cards from his throngs of admirers, both male and female; Davis must have felt like the one kid in third grade who doesn’t get a Valentine from anyone because nobody likes him (The Hallmark card signed: “With love from your friends at the US Consulate, Lahore” doesn’t count).

By now, everyone – even the New York Times, that bastion of investigative reporting and journalistic objectivity – has cottoned on to the fact that Raymond Davis is a CIA spy, arrested and jailed after shooting two motorcyclists in Lahore who may or may not have been ISI agents, petty thieves, Pizza Hut deliverymen, or recruiters for the Pakistan Cricket Board. Similarly, Davis may or may not have been a technical officer for the US Consulate in Lahore; a diplomat with the US Embassy; a security contractor; a tour guide for American tourists to Pakistan; or a Hollywood movie star. I can just imagine the conversation going on between Davis’s agent and the studio heads at 20th Century Fox: "No, Matt Damon will NOT play him in the movie version. We're in talks with Mr. Bean instead."

The heavyweights of American foreign policy, namely Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, have been begging the Pakistani government to recognise that Davis, no matter what avatar he has assumed, has diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Conventions, and that he should be released to US authorities to be tried in America. The Pakistani authorities are enjoying the discomfiture of the US government, as well as the leverage that holding a top CIA spy brings – the slave becomes the master, for once! Some circles in Islamabad are discussing the possibility of holding an auction and selling Davis off to the highest bidder in order to save Pakistan from its current economic crisis. Apparently, certain elderly dictators, autocrats, and monarchs in the Middle East are willing to pay top dollar for the hapless American; they’ll throw in a year’s supply of oil in to sweeten the deal.

(Then there’s the scientific contingent, who feel that Davis should just be cryogenically frozen and kept in a vault in one of our space stations until Luke Skywalker can come and rescue him.)

As an expert in foreign policy and international relations*, I feel that the US and Pakistan should both approach the situation with caution and pragmatism. The United States should consider the fact that it might be more politically expedient to sacrifice one really crappy spy for the sake of US-Pakistan relations. After all, they were flexible enough and allowed the US Consulate in Karachi to move its' premises from opposite Frere Hall to the Mai Kolachi Road, freeing up the five star hotels and private clubs to be enjoyed by Karachi’s elites. So why not show a little more flexibility and let Davis meet his fate at the hands of Pakistan’s excellent court system? The best-case scenario is that the court will try Davis, find him guilty, and have him declared persona non grata. Then the Foreign Office will expel him, and send him back to live out the rest of his life in rural West Virginia, which some Americans believe is a fate worse than being lynched by a mob of baying extremists.

Pakistan, too, should show some intelligence in dealing with this problem. After all, we are a signatory to the Vienna Convention, and let us not forget that embarrassing little incident when a Pakistan “diplomat” to Nepal was found to be hiding several hundred pounds of explosives in his home, for recreational purposes only. Furious orange-robed Buddhist monks didn’t hold rallies on the streets of Kathmandu, demanding that he be hanged from the nearest mountaintop. Nepalese pundits didn’t go on cable television networks, ranting about Pakistani-Nepalese relations being irrevocably damaged by the incident. The Nepalese government quietly asked Pakistan to waive his immunity, and when Pakistan refused – a sensible decision, like all those taken by the government – they expelled the man, who is now enjoying his time as the Pakistani ambassador to Libya.

There’s the interesting question of whether or not spies enjoy diplomatic immunity, and the short but unsatisfactory answer is that yes, they do. The sad reality of today’s geopolitics means that all countries, whether friends or foes, are overrun with spies who go around gathering information, liaising with questionable anti-government elements, and furthering the interests of their own countries with secrecy and style and a diplomatic passport (more than one, sometimes). And then there are spies like the ham-handed Raymond Davis, who make a complete mess of their assignments, and end up languishing in jails, their fates in utter limbo. Because, frankly, nobody really knows what to do about any of the bigger mess, the one that involves Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban, and so they all focus on one Raymond Davis, a man who never thought he’d be the flash-point of a critical juncture between the world’s sole superpower and its schizophrenic buddy state; nor less the punchline of a thousand bad jokes about James Bond and Jason Bourne.

But in the absence of any intelligent solution to this diplomatic imbroglio, I propose one that makes the most sense to me: Forget hanging Davis, they should just make him eat Pakistani jail food for a week. If he survives that, they should let him go.

*Bina Shah is the author of Slum Child, and has no expertise in politics or foreign policy whatsoever.