The US has been Pakistan’s oldest ally, when and as it has seen fit, and the Pakistanis, in return, have been the Americans’ sincerest of friends when and as it has suited the US – profiting only immensely from whenever such bonds have borne fruits. Unfortunately, of late this relationship seems to have come under threat. Both the Americans – in honor of the fair weather nature of their friendship – and the Pakistanis – despite the danger of losing their place in the American good books – seem to be backing out of this most brotherly arrangement. The main reason that has set both these allies on opposite sides of the negotiating table is Raymond Davis.
On 27 January, 2011, an American National shot and killed two Pakistani men in Pakistan’s city of Lahore. Mr. Raymond Davis has insisted that it was an act of self defense and he was only protecting himself from being robbed at gun point. He was arrested and is, at present, in a Pakistani jail. Initially identified as an employee at the Lahore consulate, American officials altered their stance a day after this announcement. They said Mr. Davis was, actually, a “diplomat” serving at the US Embassy in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. It has since been reported in all major newspapers of the world that Mr. Davis was the acting head of the CIA division operating in Pakistan and, thus, a spy. A spy operating under a diplomatic passport as is the wont of spies from every country and therefore, eligible to the impunity granted by the Vienna Convention (PDF).
What was initially a matter only of simple protocol and international laws has now grown into a full-blown issue – finally showing a formidable chink in the ‘crockery’ that is the Pak-US relationship. This is in no small part due to the thanks owed to the Pakistani and the US media, the various political actors involved and at a very fundamental level: incompetent bureaucracy in both countries. While political parties and political actors – victimized or not – have used this opportunity to gain some much needed political mileage, the information medias in both countries have equally helped in the cause of creating much ado about nothing – one by overplaying the issue and the other by underplaying it.
The problem at hand, in the grand scheme of things, however, is not whether or not Raymond Davis needs to be handed over to the US or whether Pakistan’s own courts need to try him. That Raymond Davis’s use of excessive force was wrong and that he is guilty of multiple murders (in self-defense or not) is a given. While future course of action is of pivotal importance to how this fair weather friendship plays out, discourse and argument over it is not, no matter how well informed or educated.
Right now, the focus needs to be on the possible far-reaching consequences of whatsoever course of action is taken. This is, in essence, the fact that lends such importance to and all decisions made regarding the Raymond Davis case: its consequences. It is a fact that the issue has been allowed to grow beyond its due proportions courtesy of misinformation, disinformation and political miscalculations based on gross misunderstanding of international laws. Notice the play on the repeated “mis” here? That is in fact the actual pattern in which things have unfolded in this case. As a result, there is no easy way out of this situation for either party anymore and martyrs, on both sides, will need to be scouted. The first, seemingly, have already started to appear and whether or not Raymond Davis will be part of such casualties remains yet to be seen. However, what is more important at the moment – and what needs to be realized – is that despite whatsoever baggage either party may shed in the form of drawn and lost blood; however this issue plays out, its consequences are going to go beyond just the very important Pak-US relationships and threaten to envelope the entire volatile South-East Asian region.
In this situation, to bow down to US pressure would be for the sitting government to call upon an accelerated political death. This might see Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and perhaps evenPakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the two premiere political parties of the country, ousted in riots not very different from those in Egypt except perhaps less protracted due to the hurried nature of the Pakistani people. Such a model for political demise, in stark contrast to the more popular and much talked about ‘heat death of the (political parties/universe/insert favorite protracted death here)’ model, would result in a political and power vacuum that the smaller parties will not be able to fill in. A quick look at history shows that this does not bode well for the stock markets, incidentally it also does not bode well for less important things like regional stability and civil unrest and can sometimes result in multi-faceted sanctions.
Sometimes, very rarely, the Pakistan Army takes over when the conditions are right and this results in a protracted army rule where the army does what its not too capable of doing – for reference’s sake, this has happened only four, maybe five times depending on how you count, in Pakistan’s rich 63 year history.
Now to put things in perspective, while an economically and socially unfit Pakistan is obviously bad for Pakistan itself, it is more importantly worse for all of its surrounding neighbors. Considering the fact that the country is the only other key player in the ‘war on terror’ – besides the American and European forces bogged down to little success in Afghanistan – a Pakistan in social and economic turmoil does not spell sound news. To be slightly less rhetorical, Pakistan is the supplies and logistics lifeline of all of the NATO and, specifically, US forces stationed in Afghanistan; in other news, the country is also responsible for fighting what has quickly become the real prize-fight of the war on its own side of the border. With Pakistan disabled in action, the Americans will not only be stranded in Afghanistan but they will also have to expand the scope of an already financially constrained war over an even larger region and most certainly into hostile territory. By that time, any semblance left of both regional stability and the US’s international standing will be long gone, out of the window.
At this point, we will need to back track to the original issue at hand to dissect another very, if not more, important facet of these consequences. The tactless handling of the Raymond Davis case on the part of the US government, its presidential involvement, conflicting statements, subsequent admittance of C.I.A involvement and its brash stand have left the US government not only in low opinions of the international community, but also left both the people (and to some extent the government and establishment of Pakistan) smarting severely. When coupled with the prevalent anti-US sentiment in Pakistan, it’s refusal to co-operate – or as it is more commonly known, to bow down to the US’s demands – is turning into one of the super power’s feature embarrassments of the near past. Pakistan is supposed to be the USA’s closest allies, albeit a hired ally, after Israel and the United Kingdom.
Add to this the fact that it will be very difficult for the U.S. to cut off aid or impose sanctions on Pakistan, despite any forthcoming threats, because Pakistan is the only other key player besides NATO and the US in a war that the American’s have long tired of. It is an ally that the Americans cannot afford to lose. This comparatively weaker bargaining power and the possible refusal on Pakistan’s part to comply, whether to international laws or American demands, will be considered by many in the regional and international circles as a victory won over the US and a testament to its weakening position – something that the beleaguered super power cannot afford.
Likewise, considering the exceedingly ‘flexible’ politicians in power in Pakistan – the US might well be able to force its hand on those in Pakistan’s power corridors without any apparent repercussions. In such a case, the US will be pushing Pakistan into instability again with public unrest over an issue that has largely arrested the public’s attention and with a looming political change; the US government may not be able to install a setup of choice in Pakistan anymore. This is not to say anything about the belief that it would further help the rooting of: disappointment in the system and consequently the politicians, dissatisfaction with the status quo and most importantly the belief that fundamentalism is the only way out.
Now might not be the best time for the US to sow the seeds for another war, prepare to bleed some more financially and finally, lose a traditional and a very close ally for hire. The matter needs to be handled tactfully, finally perhaps, on both ends and both sides should be willing to volunteer martyrs for the cause lest it become too late for either party to back out. It is pivotal not only for the war on terror, its future impact on the growth of the above but also for regional stability. Not only is Pakistan’s aid dependent economic future at stake but so is the size of the seemingly boundless American treasury and most importantly, the international standing of both parties in play here – personal and international relations do after all play an important role in the international community. An amicable solution would be, after all, if the US can convince Pakistan to allow the Americans to conduct the trial and then pass a ‘fair, transparent’ judgment that satiates the Pakistani public and doesn’t infuriate the American.
Heads will roll, martyrs will be made. One has already ‘shown up’ at the Pakistani camp, whether the USA is willing to sacrifice a possibly important CIA operative for the cause – or whether it is even willing to offer a sacrifice – remains to be seen.
As published on Future Challenges