The Pakistani people are already up in arms over what they see as American interference in Islamic justice. Recent efforts to spare the life of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman condemned to death for blasphemy, brought thousands of protesters into the streets demonstrating in favor of the law. Reform efforts collapsed when one of the major sponsors of the effort was gunned down. And recent drone strikes that have accidentally killed Pakistani tribesmen have received a great deal of coverage. In short, one of the most anti-American countries in the world has found even greater cause to increase its animosity toward the U.S.
The Pakistani High Court will determine whether Davis is entitled to immunity. But there are elements to this story that don’t quite fit, suggesting complexity to Davis and the incident itself that defies explanation.
Questions about Davis abound: Who is he? What was he doing in such a rough neighborhood getting money at an ATM? Why was he armed? What is his real status with the consulate?
Pakistani authorities claim that Davis is ex-Special Forces, having served in Afghanistan for 4 years. His take-down of the two robbers was an awesome display of coolness under fire. Six of the seven shots from his pistol found their mark despite Davis taking fire from the thugs.
Then, there was this curious piece of information offered by Dawn in their first report on the shooting:
A senior police officer told Dawn that Raymond David was among four people who were detained by security personnel near Lahores Sherpao Bridge on Dec 9, 2009, when they were trying to enter the Cantonment area in a vehicle with tinted glasses. They were armed with sophisticated weapons. The intervention of the US consulate led to their release, the officer recalled.
There’s more. UPI is reporting that the two men who were killed by Davis were intelligence operatives connected to the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service. An anonymous security official told Pakistan’s Express Tribune that “[t]hey found the activities of the American official detrimental to our national security.” He also hinted that the ISI was very upset over American accusations that it had helped facilitate the Mumbai massacre in 2008.
Before dismissing such talk from an anonymous source, intelligence blogger Jeff Stein at the Washington Post reads between the lines and sees a possible intelligence connection as well. Stein writes of a former diplomatic security agent, Fred Burton, who believes that Davis may have been “the victim of a spy meeting gone awry, not the target of a robbery or car-jacking attempt.”
Burton was impressed with Davis’s “situational awareness” in shooting his way out of trouble, and commented that “[e]ither the consulate employee’s route was compromised by terrorist or criminal surveillance, or it’s feasible he was set up in some sort of double-agent operation, if this wasn’t a criminal motive.”
Answers to questions about Davis, his job at the consulate, and the motives of his attackers will have to wait. Instead, the best outcome would be the Pakistan High Court recognizing Davis as a diplomat and, in accordance with international law, releasing him immediately.
But that wouldn’t salve the wounds opened up by this incident with the Pakistani people. And given everything else on his plate at the moment, President Zardari cannot afford a domestic political crisis over the treatment of an American that most Pakistanis are convinced is guilty of murder.
The outcry if Davis is released would be considerable, as some Islamic opposition politicians will almost certainly accuse him of bending too easily to America’s will. They demand that he stand up to the American military, halting the drone attacks and they insist that he refuse to budge on the blasphemy law issue. As for the former, Zardari knows that we are killing the enemies of Pakistan as well as American enemies with the drone attacks, so he is not likely to ask that they be stopped. But he has backtracked on the blasphemy laws, withdrawing support for reform, thus burying the issue for the time being.
Meanwhile, Raymond Davis sits in a Pakistani jail with most of the country baying for his life. His fate now rests with the High Court and the vagaries of Pakistani politics. Not a good place for an American to be.