The saga rolls on, while (as they used to say in the old pulp novels) the plot thickens. Davis remains in prison awaiting trial. Relations between Pakistan and the US continue to be quite strained. And the circle of collateral damage widens.
The facts of the incident that sparked all this are now fairly clear. Davis, in a rental car, was driving around in Lahore in areas where foreigners scarcely ever venture, tailed by two ISI auxiliaries on a motorbike. After an hour or more of trying to shake them off, they both came abreast at a stoplight. He pulled out a gun and, firing through his windscreen, shot them both. Accounts differ as to whether they made any threatening gesture, but one was killed as he was trying to run away.
The backup van that Davis called for came roaring up the wrong way on a one-way street, ran over a cyclist, killing him, then turned around and roared off. Davis was arrested, and weapons, ammo and other paraphernalia were found in the car. On his cell phone were numbers that were later traced to phones in the tribal belt where the Taliban operate, while his camera had pictures of religious schools and military sites.
After some initial fumbling, the US embassy declared him a diplomat on staff with diplomatic immunity, and demanded he be turned over to them. When this didn’t happen, Washington jumped in with both barrels blazing, cancelling meetings and threatening all sorts of reprisals if Davis wasn’t released, including Congressional hints of aid being cut off.
The Zardari government, whose desire to please and placate the US comes second only to its agenda of robbing the country blind, wanted to comply but had to tread warily because of the public outcry over the matter (intensified by the suicide of the wife of one of the men killed). Its strategy was to have the foreign ministry certify to the courts that Davis did, indeed, have diplomatic immunity, but this ran into a roadblock when ministry staff refused to endorse this position, based on the record. (It is being said that the military’s opposition to his release stiffened their spines!)
The Foreign Minister backed his staff, so, in a convenient cabinet reshuffle, he was dropped from this post and a more pliable person appointed; several ministry staff were shuffled around as well. Instead of accepting the alternative portfolio he was offered (in local parlance, a “lucrative” ministry), the former FM held a press conference and put his and the ministry position on the public record. The government had to hastily seek a 3-week case adjournment while it “further researched” the issue of immunity.
The US, concluding that playing the heavy wasn’t achieving much, sent in the ‘good cop’, in the person of Senator Kerry, co-author of the 7.5 billion Pakistan aid bill. He expressed public regret for the deaths, held out the assurance that Davis would be criminally investigated back in the US, and met with the principal Pakistani players. His whirlwind one-day tour didn’t achieve much beyond smuggling out of the country on his plane the three Americans who had been in the backup van (and were being sought by the police and the courts).
Some mysteries still shroud the affair. One, the subject of considerable speculation in Pakistan, is: What was Davis up to? (There are two versions as to whether this is still a mystery to the ISI; one is that he ‘sang’ under interrogation, while the US claims that he made no statement). His undoubted links to people in Taliban territory have spawned the allegation that he was arranging Taliban bombings in Pakistan (it is a settled belief among most Pakistanis that the US wishes to destabilize the country in order to grab its nukes). A more sophisticated version of this is that he facilitated the attacks that had taken place on some ISI targets and the army’s GHQ at the behest of former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh (fired by President Karzai at Pakistan’s insistence). While most believe that this was done under CIA orders, some think Davis may have been freelancing for Saleh.
A more ‘innocent’ explanation for these contacts is not being considered, at least publicly. They may merely have been informants that he and his colleagues had set up in the tribal areas to relay information for drone targetting. Incidentally, ever since his arrest drone attacks in the tribal belt have ceased. This may be due to a US desire not to further inflame Pakistani public opinion, or it could be because target information has dried up, or both.
The second mystery in the affair relates to the very odd US reaction. The SOP in such cases is to say nothing in public while working backdoor channels to quietly sort out the affair and get your Joe back (even in kidnappings this is the standard practice). Why did the US adopt such a public and heavy-handed approach? Conspiracy theorists incline to the belief that the US was petrified at the thought of what Davis might reveal under interrogation, and wanted to have him released immediately. Or, failing that, to at least make him feel that they were fully on his case, thus fortifying his resistance to questioning.
An alternative explanation is that the US thought that Pakistan and its government were so “bought” that an order (Jump!) would be enough to obtain compliance. When this didn’t happen, they got angry (!) and tried to browbeat them into submission. Considering some of the other US foreign policy moves, especially recently, this may not be too far from the truth. Viewed from the pinnacle of Washington, the world often looks very different from how it appears at ground level.
So, how is it all going to end? The Pakistani government may be able to get its foreign ministry to tell the courts that Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity, and should be set free. Whether the courts will accept this is another matter; already the former FM is threatening to appear in court and contradict that. Another possibility is a ‘prisoner exchange’ with Dr Aafiya Siddiqui (jailed by a US court for 86-years, but widely believed in Pakistan to have been railroaded). This may mollify public outrage at Davis’s release. A third possibility is that Davis will go to prison for the murders but, after a suitable interval, will develop a life-threatening ‘malady’ (that seems to afflict sensitive prisoners in Pakistani jails when it becomes inconvenient for the government to hold them) thus leading to his repatriation on ‘humanitarian’ grounds.
As for the long-term fallout from this sorry saga ‒ stay tuned.