The spy games continue in “AfPak”, but this one ended in tragedy, and may yet have wider and serious repercussions.
The known facts are that a US national, Raymond Davis, driving a car with non-diplomatic plates in Lahore, while stopped at a red light pulled out a Glock 9mm pistol and, firing through the windshield, shot dead two people nearby on a motor cycle. He radioed the US consulate for back up, stepped out of the car and took pictures of the two dead young men with his camera. The backup van came tearing up the wrong side of the dual carriageway, hit a cyclist, killing him on the spot, turned around and sped away. Davis ran off on foot, mingling among the crowds on a side street, but was chased and captured by two traffic wardens.
Taken to a police station, Davis claimed that he fired in self-defence as the men were trying to rob him. The men were also found to be carrying guns, but the autopsy reports show that, of the several bullets that hit each of them, some were in the back. In Davis’s car were found a telescope, a headband with attached flashlight, and a phone tracker, while in his camera were pictures of various military buildings and sites. Several identity cards were found on him, one indicating that he was a Defence Dept contractor.
The US embassy claimed that Davis had diplomatic immunity as he was a diplomat attached to the US consulate in Lahore, but next day changed that to say he was attached to the embassy in Islamabad. One of the identity cards found on him showed him as attached to the consulate in Peshawar. The embassy demanded that he be released from police custody because of his diplomatic immunity. Meanwhile, the Lahore consulate stated that it had no knowledge of the (backup) van that had killed the cyclist.
This incident became front-page news, with follow-up stories every day reporting the latest rumours. Everyone agreed that Davis was an intelligence operative, though speculation varied on what his mission was. A report appeared that the two men shot dead were Pakistani intelligence men (though this was officially denied). Doubts arose as to whether Davis was the American’s real name after the State Dept spokesman said there was some confusion about it. The NYT reported that he was a former Special Forces soldier working as a contractor.
As the Pakistan government dithered, US pressure ratcheted up. A visiting Congressional delegation told President Zardari that US aid would be threatened if Davis were not released immediately. Secretary Clinton refused to meet the Pakistani foreign minister at the Munich security conference, though she did meet the army chief, Gen Kayani, to deliver a stern demand for Davis’s release. Several planned visits to Pakistan by US officials were put on hold. The Pakistan government, scared of public reaction, has publicly said nothing while it continues to wrestle with the issue.
Meanwhile, tragedy struck again in this sorry saga. The families of the slain men reported that they had been approached to accept a large sum of money (as well as ‘green cards’) to drop charges, but had refused. Presumably, other pressures were applied on them by the Pakistani authorities. The 18-year old wife of one of the young men killed, stricken by grief over her loss, and losing hope of any redress, took poison and killed herself. This has further inflamed popular sentiment over the issue, making its resolution even more difficult.
The bomb continues to tick on.