Commentary the developing situation with CIA employee Raymond Davis in Pakistan

 

by Robert Haddick 

 February 21, 2011

According to a just-released article in the Washington Post, U.S. officials have confirmed that Raymond Davis is a contract employee of the CIA, responsible for security at a safe house in Lahore. According to the article, a U.S. official presumed that the Pakistani government has known the nature of Davis’s work and that today’s official confirmation will “make it a hell of a lot harder to get him out.” U.S. officials are also concerned about Davis’s safety and health while he remains in pre-trial confinement.

Left unsaid was why exactly U.S. officials decided to confirm Davis’s status. What this confirmation will mean for Davis and other U.S. government employees in Pakistan, and for the achievement of U.S. objectives in the region, remains to be seen.

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16 Feb 2011

In 1999, Gen. Charles Krulak, USMC coined the term “strategic corporal,” referring to a low-level soldier whose battlefield decisions could have strategic consequences. Raymond Davis, an “administrative and technical staff” employee at the United States consulate in Lahore, may soon be inducted into the “strategic corporal” Hall of Fame. Davis, now jailed in Lahore and awaiting trial for allegedly murdering two Pakistani men whom Davis claims were attempting to rob him at gunpoint, may accomplish what Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and ISI scheming have failed to do, namely cause a fundamental break in relations between the United States and Pakistan.

U.S. State Department spokesmen have called for Davis’s release under the terms of diplomatic immunity. The Pakistani government has thus far refused and continues to process Davis’s criminal case while it reviews his diplomatic status. Meanwhile, authorities in Lahore leaked the police investigation to the local media, which seems to have further inflamed public outrage against Davis and the U.S. government. The U.S. government has cancelled a Feb 23rd meeting with Pakistani and Afghan officials. Activists in Pakistan are threatening Cairo-style protests if Davis is set free.

Davis’s case is only the latest in a long line of complaints the U.S. government has against the Pakistani government, most of which center around Pakistan’s reluctance to fully cooperate with the U.S. campaign plan in Afghanistan. The U.S. government no doubt already knows that its ability to spring Davis from captivity is inhibited by the same constraint that has limited its ability to compel greater Pakistani compliance concerning Afghanistan. Pakistan’s control over supply lines into Afghanistan is a trump card that seems to rank even higher than the billions in aid the U.S. supplies to Pakistan every year.

Pakistan had an opportunity early in the Davis affair to label the two slain men as street thieves and miscreants and to whisk Davis out of the country. The authorities didn’t follow this course due to very legitimate fears of a strong backlash from the street, or because some policymakers saw an opportunity to leverage the Davis capture to extract something more from the Americans. With the case having now boiled for over two weeks, it will be extremely difficult for the Pakistani authorities to back down.

The easiest path for U.S. policymakers would be to throw Davis overboard. But they obviously realize that that would set a terrible precedent. The long-term U.S. government strategy for “Af-Pak” contemplates larger long-term diplomatic staffs on both sides of the border, which will include security force assistance trainers and advisors, many of whom will be contractors. If Davis is tossed away, it will become much more difficult to recruit quality individuals for these positions and for those working in the field to be effective at their jobs. If the U.S. government has to pay some sort of ransom to get Davis back, such a payment could create an incentive to arrange more such incidents in the future. Such a downward spiral would cripple the U.S. government’s plans to have its diplomats and contractors in the field improving local security in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

What is most surprising about the Davis incident is not that it occurred but that such an incident hasn’t happened sooner or more frequently. The Davis incident shows the difficulty the U.S. government has operating inside a country that is hostile to it. Plans to expand that presence will only multiply the risks.

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