Beyond the Davis affair - Taj M Khattak - Saturday, February 26, 2011

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Otto Hunerwadel, around whom the narrative of the 1958 novel The Ugly American revolves, was also a technician of sorts. Just like Raymond Allen Davis, the technical consultant who worked under cover for the CIA as a defence contractor. The US media had most probably known all along that Davis is a CIA operative, but it is only now that started to admit the fact.

The Ugly American is set in an imaginary nation, Sarkhan, which could be identified with Burma or Thailand. It describes the United States’ losing struggle in neighbouring Vietnam, because of innate US arrogance and Americans’ failure to understand local sentiments and culture.

Substitute Pakistan and Afghanistan for Burma and Thailand and some clarity starts to emerge in the Davis affair, which has plunged Pakistan-US relations into deep crisis. But for the strong public reaction in sympathy with the two people gunned down by Davis in Lahore on Jan 27 and the third run over by a US consulate vehicle he had called for assistance, US arm-twisting against Pakistan could have been as successful as that against “Burma and Thailand” and Davis would have flown to safety long ago. Former foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s ouster from the cabinet and Kerry’s reported offer of his reinstatement would amply support this view.

However, it is the following observation of a journalist belonging to that country in novel which hits you in the face. “For some reason, the (American) people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They’re loud and ostentatious.” “Ultimately, the phrase ‘Ugly Americans’ comes to be applied to Americans behaving in this manner, while their many positive contributions to the world at large are forgotten.”

It is uncertain what the US gained, in real terms and over the long haul, from its covert CIA operations in countries such as far apart as Chile under Salvador Allende in the early 1970s and Iran under Mohammad Mossadegh in the early ‘50s. But there is no doubt that the behaviour and modus operandi of those sent abroad by Washington back then have not changed a bit since those lines were first written over half-a-century ago. Davis is someone who gives an ugly image to Americans, an otherwise wonderful people.

Amid the intense pressure from the US and the public in Pakistan, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has finally admitted there is a wide gap between the US and Pakistani positions in this matter. He has conveniently pointed out that the matter is sub judice and that the government will respect the verdict of the Supreme Court, even though the government’s respect for the court’s verdicts in cases against individuals belonging to the hierarchy in Islamabad is well known.

President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani are a passing phenomenon, here today gone tomorrow, unlike the people of Pakistan. It would greatly help the long-term interests of the two countries if the US showed greater sensitivity to the ordinary Pakistani. What sort of “strategic relationship” do we have with each other if America has let loose a horde of CIA operators in this country and is working towards its destabilisation.

The US position is that international conventions cannot be subservient to the laws of a signatory country. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was intended to specify the privileges of a mission to enable its diplomats to perform their function without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country. It is ironic that in the Davis case this convention has been turned on its head against the host country, for use as a legal cover to protect an American who committed first-degree murder.

Davis possesses combat skills of the feared Task Force 373 black operations units currently operating in the Afghan war theatre and the Pakistani tribal areas. The force consists of soldiers belonging to US Special Forces, CIA spies and freelance mercenaries, all in search of their former colleague Tim Osman (a.k.a. Osama bin Laden).

The Pakistani government has been caving in to US pressures on the visa issue. The Davis affair, at the very least, warrants a complete review of the visa regime including any authority resting with the Pakistani embassy in Washington.

The ministry of foreign affairs needs a revamp to improve its working. Needed clarifications should be obtained from missions within a certain timeframe. A note verbale, where required, should not be delayed for more than six months.

President Obama had raised hopes in support of global legality soon after his inauguration. But not only did he fail to discipline CIA operators, he is reported to have promoted them in numbers never seen before.

In Davis’s case, the US president would do well to back off from supporting him. Among other things, if he plucks a man with blood on his hands to safety, he puts innocent US citizens in harm’s way. There is no dearth of jerks like Mumtaz Qadris in today’s charged atmosphere in Pakistan.

Is it a coincidence that the US administration has voiced concerns about increased threat to the United States from Al-Qaeda? With whom exactly was Davis in contact in Waziristan and within the defunct militant groups? There are reports of the US reverting to activities of the kind of the proposed “Operation Northwoods” during the Cuban missile crisis.

Under the series of false flag operations planned by the US government in 1962, acts of terrorism would have been carried out by CIA operatives in American cities to create public support for military action against Cuba.

The Central Intelligence Agency has hundreds of its operatives stationed in Pakistan. On the eve of talks for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), is the CIA going to carry out false-flag operations here to bring Pakistan under more intense pressure? The US administration, which is strongly opposed to Pakistani-Chinese civilian nuclear reactors, has already threatened to block $3 billions of aid to Pakistan if Davis is not freed.

It is never easy to predict what will trigger broad-based public agitation across the length and breadth of a country. But with the masses in Islamic countries on the roll, neither the US nor Pakistani authorities should stretch their luck too far.

More so since Zardari did arrive in the Presidency on the strength of his leadership qualities, but as a result of some extraordinary tragic circumstances. His over-dressed officer on deck in prime ministerial mode is not taken seriously by anyone. Can the captain steer the ship of state out of these stormy waters?

Those below decks wait with anxiety and trepidation.

The writer is a retired vice-admiral and former vice-chief of the naval staff. Email:

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