The man who (sometimes) calls himself Raymond Davis and has been described various as diplomat, technical adviser, intelligence operative, consulate official, CIA contractor, security consultant and much more, has been released and is already out of Pakistan. His release came as a result of a convoluted, arcane and unusual arrangement of “blood money” being paid to the families of those killed under what may or may not have been entirely voluntary circumstances. By refusing to have the case of Raymond Davis tried in a court of law, the US has decided to have it tried in the court of Pakistani public opinion. That is a case it is sure to lose!
After weeks of diplomatic tension and an obvious desire by both the US and Pakistan government for this story to ‘just go away’ this turn of events – although itself not surprising, since this has been on the cards for weeks – is likely to have many surprising results including those that neither side might wish for. But the one thing is clear: the story will not go away. Not now. And not anytime soon.
The details of his release are as murky as the details of who he really was have been, and will invariably be ‘spun’ so much by all concerned that they will soon become unrecognizable. The babbledom already created around this very strange case also means that anything that anyone wants to claim or believe, they would be able to believe and even defend. The essential details in circulation now, as reported in The Washington Post and much of the Pakistan press, are:
A CIA security contractor who fatally shot two Pakistani men in January was released Wednesday after relatives of the victims received “blood money” as compensation and agreed to pardon him, U.S. officials said. Raymond Davis was released from a Pakistani jail in Lahore after nearly two months in detention and was flown to meet with U.S. officials in Kabul. Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, accompanied Davis on the flight, a U.S. official said. “There has been a plan in the works for the last three weeks,” the official said, adding that U.S. officials had desperately worked to free Davis before a threatened murder trial began. “The concern was that if the actual murder trial started it would become very difficult to extricate him.”
… The U.S. official confirmed that so-called “blood money” had been paid to family members of the shooting victims. In Pakistan, there is a tradition of such payments in return for pardoning the perpetrator of a crime. An official close to the negotiations said three Pakistani families each received between $700,000 and $1 million as part of the deal to free Davis. In addition to the two men killed by Davis, a third Pakistani died after being struck by a vehicle carrying CIA personnel attempting to retrieve Davis after the shooting.
… A second U.S. official said that the U.S. government had yet to make any payments in connection with the case, apparently because the terms and initial payments were handled by Pakistani officials. “To date the U.S. government has not paid anybody anything,” the U.S. official said. “We expect to receive a bill.” The U.S. official said that no other concessions had been made. “There was no quid pro quo between the Pakistani and U.S. government” in connection the attempts to get Davis freed, the U.S. official said.
… A senior U.S. official said Davis was flown to Kabul because the United States wanted him out of Pakistan as soon as possible and “it was the closest place.” The official said Davis was in “good spirits,” but was not immediately asked to speak in detail about the shootings or his time in custody. “We wanted to leave that to the professionals,” the official said.
The story is unlikely to be talked about much in the US. But it is nearly certain that it will haunt the US for a long time to come. In fact, the story is now going to get even more out of control than before.
Given everything else happening in the world (uprisings in the Middle East, Tsunami in Japan, Charlie Sheen) and the US media’s obedient self-censorship and willingness to serve as State Department mouthpiece on this story it is unlikely that they will be raising any tough questions anytime soon (for example, what happened to the car and driver that ran over and killed a third bystander in its botched up attempt to ‘assist’ Mr. Davis?). But that silence and connivance has already caused as much damage as Mr. Davis’s killings. More importantly, it will make the resonance of the anger within Pakistan – and not just amongst ‘religious parties’, but within the entire fabric of society, including the so-called moderates and liberals – that much louder and more piercing for the future of this most messed-up of all messed-up international relationships. That resonance is already all too evident not just on the Pakistani media but on the Pakistani street – including, and maybe especially, on the streets in Mozang where this entire sordid tale began from.
From the very beginning this has been a story where the questions have increased over time and the answers have diminished. The facts were clearest in the minutes and moments right after the event and have been willfully made murkier ever since. The will now become murkier still. And the questions will continue to mount.
Here is an incomplete list of questions still unanswered in the official discourse, you can add your own: Who, really, is Raymond Davis? Why was he where he was and why did he do what he did? Who were the two men who were killed? What were they doing and why that led to the shooting? What about the third person killed by a US Consulate car, and what about that car and its driver? How many other ‘Raymond Davises’ are roaming about in Pakistan right now, and what are they doing? What is the precedent set here for international laws about diplomatic immunity? Is paying ‘blood money’ really a business the US wants to be in? What will the ‘blood money’ precedent mean for the US? What will it mean for Pakistan?
Spin-doctors will claim that the anger over the strange case of Raymond Davis comes from a fringe and fanatical minority. They will be wrong. Yes, the fringe and fanatical minority will use this case for all its worth to make their point. After all, they too are spin-doctors. But for too many Pakistanis – and especially for those who feel most strongly about wanting better US-Pakistan relations -this case, and even more the US reaction (not just from the US government but from the US media and citizenry) to it, has become a poignant symbol of all that is wrong with this relationship. Raymond David clearly killed two men and caused the death of at least two more. But he may also have struck another nail in the coffin of an international relationship which was never normal but which has also never been as disturbingly disturbed as it is today.
At one point in this sordid drama, US Senator John Kerry had offered that if returned Raymond Davis will be tried in a US court of law. Maybe doing exactly that, and making sure that it is a fair and transparent trial is the US’s only hope of salvaging at least some credibility. It would be a good idea to do exactly so. But no one in Pakistan is holding their breath for that to actually happen. And that, itself, is a good indicator of where this relationship stands.