Raymond Davis, described by the State Department as “a US diplomat” affiliated with the Lahore consulate, is being held illegally in a Pakistani jail. Police are investigating Davis’s role in a January 27th shootout in which two Pakistanis were killed. The incident has angered the Pakistani people and put their government in an impossible position. With our alliance with Pakistan already strained by U.S. drone strikes, the Davis affair threatens to do further damage to Pakistan-U.S relations, and to destabilize the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.
Davis was driving a rented car in a dangerous part of Lahore when he was set upon by two hoodlums intent on robbing him. He told authorities he had just withdrawn cash from an ATM. A gun battle ensued and the two would-be robbers were fatally wounded.
Within minutes, an angry crowd had gathered at the scene of the shooting. According to Pakistani authorities, Mr. Davis, who had two cell phones and a Beretta pistol in his possession, called the embassy for help. A car was immediately dispatched to the scene to rescue Mr. Davis, but in the process of trying to reach him, the driver of the car ran over another Pakistani civilian on a motorcycle, killing him as well.
The car fled the scene without picking up Davis, who was arrested by Pakistani police and charged with murder.
Initial reports by Pakistani media sought to sensationalize the incident. The English language Dawn referred to the two robbers as “commuters.” They quoted an “eyewitness” who accused Mr. Davis of gunning down the robbers in cold blood. In truth, it appears that the robbers had held up another victim just minutes before their fatal encounter with Davis. Both men had criminal records as well.
This, and other reports, fueled an anti-American reaction that brought protesters into the streets and to pressure the government to keep Davis in jail, despite pleas from the State Department to release him because his status as a diplomat gives him immunity.
The plea has fallen on deaf ears.The Pakistanis are challenging the status of Davis as a diplomat. Indeed, Mr. Davis seems to fall into a gray area of international law. He is identified as a “technical advisor” to the consulate and owns a security consulting business in Florida. The Pakistanis insist this makes him a civilian subject to local justice.
But the consulate claims he has diplomatic status as a member of the “administrative and technical staff.” The State Department refuses to clarify Mr. Davis’s position at the consulate, which has deepened the mystery that surrounds the American.
Davis appeared in court on Friday without legal representation or even a translator to help him understand the proceedings. This proved to be too much for the State Department who blasted the Pakistani government, accusing them of not giving Davis a “fair hearing.”
The embassy in Islamabad issued another statement where they “reiterated to the Government of Pakistan today that his continued detention is a gross violation of international law,” and that Davis “is entitled to full criminal immunity and cannot be lawfully arrested or detained.”
The entreaties failed to make a dent. The Pakistani court ruled that Davis must remain incarcerated for another 8 days while the police investigate the matter further. Police sources have already admitted that the incident appears to be a cut and dried case of self-defense. The windows on Davis’s car were shot out and a gun was found lying next to one of the dead robbers.
But the Pakistani people are unconvinced. The families of the victims want Davis brought up on terrorism charges and news about the incident has been on the front pages for a week. Opposition politicians are demanding that Davis be tried for murder and there have been several protests at the jail where Davis is being held.
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.