An abject surrender - Asif Ezdi - Monday, March 21, 2011

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The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

At a public meeting on March 13, Gilani announced that there would do “no compromise over national dignity and honour” in the Raymond Davis case. Six days later, the whole nation was stunned to learn that the CIA agent facing trial for having killed two Pakistanis on a crowded public street in Lahore had been released and quickly flown out of the country under a plan worked out secretly between Pakistani and US officials. Gilani’s concept of national honour is obviously skewed. But he is not alone.

It was not only the federal government under PPP leadership but the PML-N government of Punjab and the leadership of the Pakistan army and the ISI were also fully involved in the shady deal that bought freedom for the American killer whom Obama last month called “our diplomat”.

There is no other country in the world whose leaders speak in public more often and more loudly of safeguarding national dignity and sovereignty and then dishonour the country through their own deeds. It was the same under Musharraf. It happens every time our leaders protest at attacks by American drones, some of which have taken off from bases in Pakistan, to hit targets in the country on which intelligence has often been provided by our own agencies. Now, by setting Davis free without bringing him to justice, we have added another episode to this shameful record.

Both the federal government and the Punjab government have been trying to obfuscate their own role in this deal. They have suggested that this was essentially worked out by the courts, the accused and the families of the slain Pakistanis. But the facts tell a different story. Davis’ release was the last act of a scheme worked out between the two countries with the full participation of their intelligence agencies, the ISI and CIA.

There are strong indications that the agreement of the families of the two victims of the shooting to settle the matter through payment of blood money was obtained by abusing the Diyat law.

There are two reasons for this:

First, the two families were heavily pressured to accept diyat. Until a few days before, they had been insisting on Davis’s trial. Then, on the day of the last hearing, there was a six-hour long meeting between them and Pakistani officials at which the lawyer who had been representing them was kept out. He was also excluded from the court proceedings conducted behind closed doors after which Davis was released.

Second, the families were told that there was little possibility of bringing Davis to justice. This is what drove Shumaila, wife of one of the victims, to suicide. This message appears to have been reinforced through the seemingly bizarre attempt to poison Shumaila’s uncle a couple of weeks later. Clearly, the families were made to believe that Davis would not face trial and the only option before them was to accept blood money.

It seems that even the judiciary was not spared in this heavy-handed approach. The New York Times reported on March 17 that Pakistani officials exerted “quiet political pressure” on the courts to get Davis’ release. According to the newspaper, the Pakistan government requested influential politicians in Lahore, including the family of Nawaz Sharif (read Shahbaz Sharif), to press the Lahore High Court to delay a ruling on the Davis case. These reports have not been rebutted.

To soothe Pakistani public opinion, Hillary Clinton has said that the US Justice Department has begun an investigation of the shooting. On his visit to Pakistan last month, Kerry had said the same thing. But as an unnamed US official told the Washington Post, an investigation does not mean that Davis would be charged and tried, even if there was evidence of his guilt. Any CIA inquiry that might be held is more likely to focus on why he failed to make good his escape after the shooting and on what additional equipment and training US spies should receive so that they do not get caught in similar circumstances.

In any case, whether the Americans hang Davis or give him the congressional medal of honour is now their own business and of little interest to us.

The ISI claims that under the deal for Davis’ release, it has received assurances that the CIA would declare all its operatives in Pakistan and would curtail its activities in the country. But US officials deny this. They insist that there was “absolutely no quid pro quo” by the CIA; and that the agency made no pledges to scale back covert operations in Pakistan or give a list of their spies in Pakistan. Between these two contradicting assertions, we do not know where the truth lies.

But the ISI should know better than anyone else that in the business of intelligence, any such pledges are worthless. It would therefore be illusory to imagine that US spies working under diplomatic cover would now stop tracking the activities of militant organisations inside Pakistan or trying to unearth their alleged links with the agencies or gathering intelligence on Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Zardari will be happy that he can now have his one-on-one meeting with Obama in the White House that he craves. But nothing can hide the fact that by employing the full might of the state to enable Davis to escape justice, the Pakistani leadership has brought humiliation upon the whole country.

Our handling of the case shows also how little our rulers value the life of the ordinary Pakistani. This is not of course the first time. In 2010, a US diplomat who was drunk while driving hit a young man in Islamabad and killed him. Our authorities, instead of holding the culprit to account, helped him leave the country.

Again, in the Davis case, our officials helped the two US officials whose car killed the third Pakistani to leave Pakistan surreptitiously. An example of how the US deals with such matters is the 1997 case of a Georgian diplomat who killed an American because of drunk driving, a far less serious offence than murder. The US government compelled Georgia to waive his immunity. He was then sentenced by American courts to seven years of imprisonment.

The CIA greeted the release of their “contractor” by carrying out one of their deadliest drone attacks on Pakistani soil the very next day. Pakistani intelligence officials said at first that those killed were militants. Later in the day, the army chief issued a strong condemnation of the attack, saying the drones had targeted a meeting of peaceful citizens and was in “complete violation of human rights”. Do we really expect to be taken seriously, especially after the “amicable” end to the Davis case?

An American official gave a good indication of the contempt with which they treat such protests. Those killed, he said, were “not gathering for a bake sale”. They belonged to a group of terrorists, “not the local men’s glee club”. The message was unmistakable: You Pakistanis can scream as much as you like; we know that you have to do it to pacify public opinion; but we will continue our drone attacks for the safety of our homeland; and if any Pakistani civilians get killed, too bad for them.

After the drone attack, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement demanding that Pakistan should not be treated as a client state. The Foreign Ministry is right. But it should know that Pakistan is treated as a client state because our government itself acts as one, as it did in the Davis case.

The fault is that of our own leaders, of our corrupt ruling class and of their allies in the country’s “liberal elite”. Granted, we need external assistance to keep our economy from collapsing. But we could easily overcome this dependence if our ruling class stops looting the country and starts paying its fair share of taxes, starting from the top.


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