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Spy game

December 31, 2011

Protest against Raymond Davis, Karachi, March 19. AFP Photo

A year after Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in a congested part of Lahore in broad daylight — setting in motion a chain of events that led to the death of a third motorcyclist who was run over by the SUV sent to rescue Davis — he is set to go on trial. On Jan 30, 2012, he will enter a county courthouse in Colarado, USA and enter a plea against charges of second-degree assault and disorderly conduct during a dispute over a parking spot outside a bagel shop on Oct 1. That Davis escaped a trial in Pakistan isn’t really a commentary on the relative merits of the American judicial system: it is, instead, a small window into the secretive world of spying and the conduct of Pak-US relations since 9/11.

While the precise reason for Davis’s presence in Pakistan may never be known publicly, what transpired on Jan 27 in the Mozang neighbourhood of Lahore is almost certainly linked to the shadowy war against militancy — and perhaps also the suspicions in both the United States and Pakistan that the two states have conflicting strategic interests. Davis is certainly a post-9/11 phenomenon: a former US Special Forces soldier who was inducted by private security contractors and then hired by the Central Intelligence Agency to roam the frontlines in the so-called ‘war against terror’ and push the boundaries between legal and illegal conduct in the pursuit of US security interests.

When Davis was released on March 16 after blood money was paid — by whom it still isn’t clear — to the heirs of his victims, it still seemed like the entire episode could have been an aberration, a freak occurrence that got sucked into the vortex of Pak-US suspicions and anger. But in hindsight there were telltale signs that the stakes were much higher. On Feb 15, President Obama personally intervened in the matter, referring to Davis as “our diplomat” and demanding that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations be applied in a case where its application was stretching the letter and spirit of the convention at best. Then, on Feb 20, The Guardian broke the news that Davis was in fact working for the CIA and that the Obama administration had prevailed on the US media to keep the fact a secret, ostensibly to ensure Davis’s safety while he was under detention in a high-security Pakistani prison.

Through the rest of 2011, as the incidents piled up — the Osama bin Laden raid, tussles over drone strikes, then American military chief Mike Mullen’s claim that the Haqqani network was “a veritable arm” of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Mohmand killings of Pakistani soldiers in a Nato airstrike, ‘memogate’, etc — and Pak-US relations plummeted, the meaning behind what has been euphemistically dubbed the ‘Raymond Davis affair’ became clearer.

Davis existed and was present in Pakistan because the US had fundamental doubts about both the will and capacity of Pakistan to fight the war against militancy. And the Pakistani security establishment was resisting the presence of Davis-type CIA assets in Pakistan because it was convinced that the US was seeking to do more than just dismantle the Al Qaeda network, perhaps even working to undermine what the army perceives as Pakistan’s core security interests.

Davis’s actions as an individual may have been an aberration — the outsourcing of its core activities by the CIA may have played a role by inadequately preparing men like Davis for responding to threats in a civilian environment as opposed to a military battlefield — but Davis the CIA contractor in Pakistan was a symbol of a deeper malaise: the US doesn’t trust Pakistan and Pakistan is massively suspicious of the US.

Toward the end of 2011, and particularly after the Mohmand killings, the army establishment has been able to push back somewhat successfully against increasingly unwanted American ‘intrusions’ in Pakistan. But the Americans are unlikely to give up. The Pakistani or American people may not get to hear about it or see it much, but the covert struggles will continue, and they will likely be intense.

— Cyril Almeida is a Dawn staffer