By G Parthasarathy
With tensions mounting between Pakistan and the US over the Raymond Davis affair, the flaws in America's AfPak policy have become more glaring than before.
It could well have been a scene from a Sylvester Stallone ‘Rambo’ thriller. The ‘good guy’ is ‘Rambo’ Raymond Davis, a Special Forces sharpshooter-turned-CIA agent, sent to eliminate ‘bad guy’ terrorists in ‘major non-NATO ally’ Pakistan. ‘Rambo’ Raymond Davis is followed by two ‘bad guys’ through the shady areas of Lahore on January 27. The ‘bad guys’ are actually ISI agents assigned to trail ‘Rambo’ Raymond Davis, who has been eliminating the agency’s jihadi and Taliban assets in Pakistani terrorist badlands, including in the tribal areas straddling the AfPak border. The ISI stalkers draw their pistols and move towards ‘Rambo’ Raymond Davis’s car. He draws his trusty six-shooter and brings down the two ‘bad guys’. He then radios for help and an American Consulate car rushes to the scene, with the rescuers running over a pedestrian while driving the wrong way on a one-way street. ‘Rambo’ Raymond Davis is overpowered and jailed. All hell breaks loose between the two ‘major non-NATO allies’.
The American version of the status of Mr Davis is that he holds a diplomatic passport and was issued a visa after being designated a ‘regional affairs officer’ — an euphemism for his being a CIA operative — with his background known to the hosts. He was also listed as ‘administrative and technical staff’ which entitles him to diplomatic immunity. According to the Pakistanis, Mr Davis is actually an employee of the private security agency, Hyperion Protective Consultants. Oddly, while the Americans insist Mr Davis is an embassy employee, the US State Department spokesman has described him as a “(Lahore) Consulate employee”. Amid these flip-flops by the Obama Administration, former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi, who had avoided a scheduled visit to Munich, evidently fearing that he was on the verge of being fired, joined issue immediately after he lost his job. Mr Qureishi claimed his Ministry had carried out a detailed study and concluded that Mr Davis was not entitled to diplomatic immunity.
These developments have come just when Pakistan’s politics is becoming increasingly volatile. The Zardari Government in Islamabad does not want hassles in Pakistan’s relations with the US. The issue would have been settled and Mr Davis quietly repatriated to the US if the incident had taken place in the Federal Capital Area, where President Asif Ali Zardari controls the police. But, Lahore is not the federal capital. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has shown no inclination of making life easy for Mr Zardari. After easing Mr Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party out of the ruling coalition in Punjab, moves will be initiated to get his brother, Mr Nawaz Sharif, back as Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Mr Nawaz Sharif knows that his PML(N) will sweep the polls in any national election. The Sharif brothers also have no inhibitions in being seen to be supportive of the growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Mr Shahbaz Sharif has funded Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h after it was declared an international terrorist organisation. The Punjab Police has swiftly arrested and charged Mr Davis with murder, knowing that the judiciary headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is virulently anti-Zardari. The Lahore High Court has deferred the case till March 14. In the meantime, Mr Davis sleeps in a Lahore jail despite assertions by US President Barack Obama that he enjoys diplomatic immunity and should be released.
Stirring this boiling cauldron is the all-powerful Pakistani Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and his ever-loyal ISI chief, now under extension, Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha. There has been no love lost between the CIA and the ISI in recent days. The CIA is furious that its base in the Khost Province of Afghanistan, near the AfPak border, was attacked and destroyed by jihadis from across the Durand Line. Tensions between the two intelligence agencies escalated when the ISI leaked the identity of the CIA Station Chief then working undercover in Pakistan. Moreover, Mr Davis was undermining the ISI by establishing his own links to eliminate the jihadis in the Pashtun tribal areas along the AfPak border. Worse still, he was evidently attempting to undermine and infiltrate the citadel of the ‘holiest of the holies’ the Lashkar-e Tayyeba and the Patron Saint of the ISI, the redoubtable Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. The Pakistani Army quietly joined the chorus seeking to push the Americans into a corner and force them to offer concessions, even though Gen Kayani does not exactly love fellow Punjabi Nawaz Sharif. What the Americans, like some in South Block, have failed to acknowledge is that Gen Kayani believes that the US needs Pakistan just now more than Islamabad needs Washington, DC. He evidently feels that the Americans will blink first, which they show every inclination of doing, in this standoff.
The Davis affair is a manifestation of the larger malaise affecting the transactional US-Pakistan relationship. Thanks to some adept diplomacy by India, the Obama Administration soon gave up the thoughtless proposal mooted by Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid that the US should actively involve itself in meddling in the issue of Jammu & Kashmir by appointing Mr. Bill Clinton as a Special Envoy. Moreover, its initial honeymoon with China soon led to estrangement, accentuated by the global economic downturn. The realization dawned in Washington that New Delhi would be a useful partner in fashioning an inclusive Asian architecture for security and cooperation. While Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his bureaucrats have been constantly moaning that the Americans are not treating them ‘equally’ with India and denying them a nuclear deal, Gen Kayani appears hell bent on giving the US a difficult time by providing support and haven to the ‘Quetta Shura’ headed by Mullah Omar and to the Taliban’s Haqqani network.
American diplomacy in Afghanistan also needs review. Afghan President Hamid Karzai disagrees with American policies and is meeting Lt Gen Shuja Pasha regularly, seeking Pakistani cooperation for ‘reconciliation’ with the Taliban. The Americans have not evolved a coherent strategy of how to get the Taliban to renounce violence and abide the Afghan Constitution. Nor is there confidence that the Afghan National Army will develop the capabilities to overcome Taliban depredations by 2014. The realization has to dawn that terrorist safe havens in Pakistan cannot be eliminated unless the US reduces its dependence on Pakistani logistical support and fashions alternative logistical arrangements with Russia and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors. Only then can the international community evolve viable policies for governance within Afghanistan and ensure that the AfPak border is no longer what Admiral Mike Mullen has called “the epicenter of global terrorism”.
G Parthasarathy is a former Indian Ambassador to Pakistan.
Source: Pioneer, New Delhi