US accused of duplicity in Pakistan
Incendiary reaction to call for immunity
By Matthew Green in Lahore
Washington finally admitted this week that Raymond Davis, the US citizen who shot dead two pistol-packing Pakistanis, was a contractor employed by the CIA.
To Waleed Malhi, a student, the news seemed to confirm his suspicions that Mr Davis belonged to a legion of covert operatives known only as “the machine”.
“There are many Raymond Davises,” said Mr Malhi, speaking after a media studies class at the University of Punjab in Lahore, the city where the shootings took place. “It’s a whole group which is going to destabilise Pakistan.”
As the Obama administration seeks to build bridges with Pakistan to support some of its most pressing security goals, the Davis case has added a sensational chapter to the country’s favourite narrative: the US as master of superpower duplicity.
US diplomats have spent two years trying to transform a relationship defined by bribery and coercion into the semblance of a genuine partnership. At stake is badly needed Pakistani support for the west’s campaign in Afghanistan and greater help with counterterrorism.
With a blaze of gunfire, Mr Davis has reanimated a set of shadowy US bogeymen who may do far more to shape Pakistani perceptions than a growing flow of aid dollars.
The vitriol he has earnt reflects a belief in Pakistan that the CIA is orchestrating the suicide bombings claimed by Pakistani extremists. The presumed motive: sow enough chaos to give the US a pretext to seize the country’s nuclear warheads.
Fear of the US, some argue, has served Pakistan’s venal rulers and powerful military well, providing a scapegoat for their collective failure to tackle a chronic economic crisis and stubborn Taliban insurgency.
The quandary for US officials is that the facts of the Davis case are so incendiary that they make even the wildest conspiracy theories look more plausible.
Mr Davis, a former member of US special forces, shot dead two Pakistani motorcyclists whom he said were trying to rob him on January 27.
A US car rushed to the scene, crushing another man to death.
The widow of one of the victims is since reported to have committed suicide after saying that she had no hope of justice.
The US embassy’s initial insistence that Mr Davis was a member of its “administrative and technical staff” gave way on Monday to an admission that he was a CIA contractor. Washington says he is entitled to immunity under international conventions.
Pakistan’s boisterous media are rife with reports that Mr Davis is a spy. One paper reported that the US was preparing a jail break to spring him from his cell in Lahore.
Mr Davis appeared handcuffed in a closed hearing at the jail on Friday, where he refused to sign a charge sheet, claiming he had immunity, according to a lawyer.
Hours later, hundreds of protesters gathered in the city to wave banners that read, “Ambassadors or Killers?” and to display posters showing Mr Davis’s head in a noose.
“Blood for blood: he should face capital punishment,” said Imran Haider, the brother of one of the men Mr Davis shot. “America should take away all the dogs that they have unleashed – otherwise they’ll face the same fate.”
Behind the outrage lurks an enduring sense of injustice. The decades-long US record of backing authoritarian Pakistani regimes has nurtured the belief that even the country’s current crop of leaders are handpicked in the US. Anger at the unpopular government of Asif Ali Zardari, the president, thus translates into anger at Washington, even if many Lahoris say they bear no grudge against the American people.
The result is that the harder the Obama administration pushes for Mr Davis’s release, the more it may alienate the very people whose trust it is spending billions of dollars to win.
“We want to be friends,” said Faisal Nawaz, a student. “Not slaves.”