It started with a bang (quite a few bangs, actually), but ended with a whimper. On Wednesday afternoon the sessions court convened inside Kot Lakhpat jail, with the accused present, as well as the families of the victims. Their lawyers weren’t there because, when they arrived at the jail earlier that day, they were escorted to another room and placed under armed guard. Also not there was the young widow of one of the victims who, overcome with grief and the futility of hoping for justice, had taken her own life. (Of course, as devotees of le Carré will recognise, Raymond Davis himself was also a victim).
The judge read out the indictment; then a representative of the victims’ families stood up and told him that they had accepted payment of compensation for the killings and, under the diyyat provisions of the law, had pardoned the killer. Having confirmed this, the judge ordered the prisoner released. In the hush that followed, as Davis walked towards the US Consul seated behind him he had tears trickling down his face, but the whimpering sound probably came from some of the womenfolk among the families. Within minutes Davis left in a convoy of diplomatic vehicles; within the hour he was on a plane bound for Bagram airbase in Kabul.
The Zardari government would have loved to free Davis the day of the occurrence, but had run into some substantial roadblocks. There was the practical difficulty caused by Davis being in the hands of the authorities of a province ruled by the opposition party of Nawaz Sharif, which wanted to use him to cause maximum embarrassment to the federal government. The powerful military also wanted to use Davis to sort out with the US the issue of a large number of CIA and JSOC operatives running around freely in the country. Then, there were large public protest demonstrations over the issue, which were being whipped up by the religious parties.
The military’s issue was dealt with by the US directly. Certain actions were taken and assurances given that allayed the military’s concerns to a considerable degree. For the other problems, the two parties approached the Saudis, who appear to be ever willing to help out their clients. They carry a lot of clout with both Nawaz Sharif and the religious parties, and told them both to back off and let the issue be settled quietly. To remove any lingering reservations in the military they sent the Saudi army chief to have a chat with Gen Kayani. That was how the way was smoothed for ending the affair without any fuss.
A few words might be appropriate for those not familiar with the legal provisions used. Diyyat is part of the sharia law used in Pakistan in parallel with the penal code inherited from the days of British rule. Sharia law is based largely on the customary practices in effect in Arabia at the time of Islam’s birth; diyyat was one such practice. It came into use as an amelioration of the old tribal custom of seeking revenge for any wrong done to a tribal member; the original biblical ‘eye for an eye....’ (Leviticus 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 19:16-21). In practice, this led to unending blood feuds between tribes, to avoid which the system of diyyat was introduced.
The diyyat provision is much loved by the rich and powerful in Muslim societies where it is in force; it literally allows them to get away with murder! If the details of this law are widely reported in the US following Davis’s homecoming, Dr Silverman might find that there has arisen a whole new constituency pressing for the introduction of sharia in the United States.