By BARIN KAYAOĞLU
March 19, 2011
I am no fan of Pakistan’s ruling elite or their rampant corruption or their inability to meet the basic needs of their people. And I certainly do not like their influence over events in Afghanistan.
But the recent strain in U.S.-Pakistani relations has demonstrated the Pakistani elite’s impossible bind: They have to balance American and Western efforts to marginalize the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the region with a Pakistani public opinion completely fed-up with the nearly-ten-year-old “war on terror.”
The “Raymond Allen Davis affair,” which sheds much light on the Pakistani public’s hatred for the West, went roughly like this: On January 27, 2011, “Raymond Allen Davis” (that may or may not be his real name), an American working for the U.S. consulate in Lahore, shot two armed motorcyclists who were allegedly trying to rob him (an alternative explanation is that the two men were working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence). “Mr. Davis” left Pakistani custody on March 16 after the U.S. government agreed to pay diyya (blood money) to the relatives of the deceased. Along the way, several details came to light:
1- If “Mr. Davis” is not our protagonist’s real name, then he must have obtained a Pakistani visa using a fake passport. And that means he couldn’t have had diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.
2- Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who stepped down as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan in early February, may have lost his job for refusing to retroactively confer full diplomatic immunity to “Mr. Davis” under the Vienna Convention.
3- “Mr. Davis” had served in the U.S. Special Forces for 10 years from 1993 until 2003. After his military service, he started a private security company and was contracted by the CIA to work in Pakistan. Upon the Obama administration’s request, the U.S. media kept the CIA connection a secret for almost a month.
4- Before being apprehended by Pakistani police on January 27, “Mr. Davis” had alerted two consular employees to come to his help. On the way, the two employees steered their 4×4 over the median curb of the road and drove against oncoming traffic. They eventually ran over and killed another motorcyclist.
Although the incident and reports of protests in Pakistan may seem “business as usual,” the episode actually offers two very important lessons:
The most offensive part of the “Raymond Allen Davis Affair” wasn’t really the killing of the two motorcyclists (there isn’t much in the press about the two men’s exact intent). It was the other two Americans driving on the wrong side of the road and then killing an innocent motorcyclist. Frankly, if foreigners are in Pakistan (and Afghanistan, for that matter) to really help with establishing law and order, they should set an example by respecting that country’s laws and regulations – including traffic laws.
This is not a simplistic point. In 2010, many Afghans that I had talked to had complained about foreigners’ driving habits; especially their driving on the wrong side of the road in order to bypass heavy traffic. Worse, Afghans drew connections between foreigners’ lack of respect to traffic laws and their potential disrespect toward Afghan people. (Never mind the fact that not many Afghans respect those laws.)
It wouldn’t be too surprising if similar feelings are taking over Pakistanis these days.
A more important lesson to learn is that using private contractors instead of professional spies knowledgeable in regional customs and languages is ultimately going to undermine the CIA’s contribution to the war on terror. It is a truism that you go to war with whatever assets you have. But 10 years have passed since the United States became involved in the affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s more than enough time to recruit and train the types of agents who don’t expose their identities and the agency’s work in such mishaps.
In the final analysis, American policy-makers should remember that tragedies and “accidents” like the “Raymond Allen Davis affair” in Lahore may cause popular tensions in Afghanistan and Pakistan to boil over and completely derail U.S. and NATO efforts in the two countries. Some Pakistanis are already questioning their ruling elite’s inability to stand up for their country. Down the road, they might take matters into their own hands – which will likely benefit the Taliban and Al-Qaeda rather than the United States and the international community.
Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.