ROVER’S DIARY: A pound of flesh from the US —Babar Ayaz - Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Source :\03\01\story_1-3-2011_pg3_4

I think one should give Raymond the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because we have to face the fact that Pakistan is a dangerous country to live in — even for its citizens — leave alone for foreigners and that too an American

Will the multi-dimensional case of trigger-happy Raymond Davis be the game changer in Pakistan? Will the case of Salmaan Taseer’s killing by Mumtaz Qadri test the government’s will to implement the rule of law amidst religious frenzy? These questions are being debated in the media and by almost everybody. Much of the discussion is emotional. The media and the opposition politicians are whipping up the sentiments of the people in the name of violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and religion.

In the case of Davis, immunity is being claimed by the US administration. In Mumtaz Qadri’s case, impunity is claimed on religious grounds by his supporters. In both cases, the sanity and sagacity required to manage this crisis is missing in the government and the opposition. When Raymond Davis shot dead two young men in Lahore, the public outrage was natural, as it would have been in any other country. But all governments are expected to manage their crises in a much more organised way.

Conflicting messages came from government officials, which show that there is no mechanism to manage crisis communication in the government. A well-established crisis management practice is that in such a situation all the important people who deal with different stakeholders get together in the crisis control room. The first step then is to decide the policy and key messages. Then the number of spokespersons is decided, who are kept informed from the crisis control room about the messages they should relay. In such a case, only the foreign minister, interior minister and information minister should have been authorised to speak, but with one voice.

Worst probable questions are prepared by the media advisors and their replies are decided. Now there is a catch here for which the government cannot be blamed. Foreign policy is decided by the military leaders and not the civilian government, so the difference of opinion between the two on this fiasco came out in the public. As the power is being shared with the military establishment, the government should debate these issues with them privately and then come out with an agreed response. In such cases where national interest is at stake, an emotional or aggressive response is not what the country needs.

Much of the differences within the government (read political and military establishment) are on the issue whether Raymond Davis has diplomatic immunity or not. Minor technicalities of the Vienna Convention apart, the fact remain that he carried a diplomatic passport and the visa was issued on the same. This shows that Pakistan accepted that he is a diplomat. The US State Department in its latest briefing has said that the US Embassy in Islamabad had included the name of Raymond Davis (most probably a fake name) in the list of diplomats furnished to the Pakistan Foreign Office on January 20 — days before the Lahore killings.

For a moment, let us accept that he has diplomatic immunity, but does that mean that a diplomat can kill in the host country with impunity? Will the US government and public opinion allow a diplomat to kill their citizens with impunity? No. The record shows they pressurise the country whose diplomat had erred to lift immunity.

The stance taken by Raymond is that he killed them in self defence. Now this is being challenged by the media in the light of available evidence that the boys were shot in the back. Here I think one should give Raymond the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because we have to face the fact that Pakistan is a dangerous country to live in — even for its citizens — leave alone for foreigners and that too an American. Every day people are robbed by young men riding motorbikes and sometimes muggers also kill. So if some people are chasing a foreigner and are carrying guns, he is expected to become nervous. Most people here in Karachi get nervous when the same motorbike with two people stops near their car a couple of times. The fear is natural because in every family one or two persons have been robbed at gunpoint.

So far two versions have come out about Raymond’s victims: one, that they were petty muggers and had snatched the phone and wallet from a doctor on the same day; and two, that they were our intelligence operatives who were chasing Raymond. And perhaps the intention was to scare him so that his activities are curtailed. Chasing diplomats is the normal intelligence practice, particularly where counter-intelligence agencies have doubts about the activities of a diplomat. In this case, according to the International Herald Tribune, Raymond was keeping tabs on the jihadi organisations that work for our intelligence on contract and are a sacred cow.

Thus the fear factor cannot be ruled out. It should also not be mixed up with the fact that Raymond is a CIA contractor and was carrying guns and equipment, which a normal diplomat does not use. For the purpose of dispassionate analysis, these two factors should not be mixed up. Even the hysteria why a CIA spy or their contractor is claiming immunity is irrational. Every country’s intelligence agents, who are posted in other countries, usually carry diplomatic passports. I am quite sure our sleuths posted in other countries of importance have diplomatic passports and visas. This does not mean that they should act like James Bond.

Agitated anchors and columnists question why CIA and its agents are operating in the country. My friends, we invited them by interfering in Afghanistan after the 1978 revolution. Pakistan started intervening in that country and made itself a frontline for covert activities. All major countries’ intelligence services are operating in Pakistan now for over 30 years and it is our own doing because we follow one of the most dangerous national security policies. So why blame others?

Now the question is, what is the solution to this problem? Can we hang Raymond Davis and still sleep in the same bed with the Americans as we have done for the last 63 years? The military establishment has to find the answer to this billion-dollar question. In 1979, after the siege of Makkah by an extremist Muslim group, the propaganda was that the Americans were involved in it, although they moved their fleet in support of the Saudi royal family. Pakistani dictator General Zia, who had killed Bhutto and but continued with his nuclear programme, was not in the good books of the US. So, taking advantage of the God-sent opportunity, he decided to take a cycle ride in Rawalpindi while some students and his men in civilian clothes burnt the US Embassy in Islamabad. This managed to impress upon the Americans how unpopular they were in Pakistan in spite of billions of dollars in civilian and military assistance. Afghanistan then offered him another opportunity to lure the Americans to beat the Soviets and get even for Vietnam.

Our Afghanistan oil well has still not dried up and Raymond Davis has given another opportunity to our establishment to get a bigger pound of flesh from the US. As a side effect, the victims’ families might also get blood money and maybe a bloody passport, which most anti-American Pakistanis yearn for.

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