BOSTON — The United States has badly mismanaged the case of a CIA operation gone horribly wrong to the point where it is endangering one of the most important, complicated and anxiety-fraught relationships this country has — the relationship between the United States and its “strategic, nuclear-armed ally” Pakistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said that the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis is a simple case of diplomatic immunity, which all diplomats are afforded under international conventions. But I’m sorry; when a CIA contractor shoots two men dead on a crowded city street, gets out of his car to finish them off, photographs the corpses and then speeds away, it is never going to be a simple case of diplomatic immunity, even if he is holding a diplomatic passport.
Although both countries are trying to mend the torn fabric, the Davis case may have done irreparable harm to what was once a close cooperative relationship between the CIA and Pakistani intelligence, ISI.
The Davis case has inflamed public passions in a country where the United States is deeply unpopular, except among a tiny elite. But elites cannot operate in a complete vacuum of public support, and the Davis case will make it a great deal more difficult for both the weak, civilian government and the powerful Pakistani military, to cooperate with the United States.
In addition, there will be no smooth exit from Afghanistan, nor a stop in the terrorism from Pakistan, without the cooperation of the Pakistani military and its intelligence service.
The Davis case is an example of letting a slight tactical intelligence advantage work against larger and broader strategic interests.
Yes, it is frustrating that Pakistan does not completely subordinate its interests to ours. And, yes, it is frustrating that Pakistan won’t go after all the organizations on our terrorist lists as forcefully as we would want. It is suggested that Davis was operating against Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was implicated in the Mumbai terrorist attack, but nothing Davis could have achieved against Lakshar-e-Taiba was worth endangering the bed-rock relationship with Pakistan.
The Davis case throws into bold relief the dangerous drift the CIA has been taking since 9/11. the CIA is tasked with clandestine operations, as well as intelligence gathering, but clandestine is supposed to mean your hand is hidden. More and more the CIA is drifting into war-making where the covert becomes overt, and outsourcing intelligence.
There are many at the CIA who deeply mistrust the increasing reliance on private, one might say mercenary, forces, such as the infamous Blackwater, to do its work. The privatization of black operations was bound to one day turn around and bite the CIA in the pants, and the Davis’ killings have done just that.
The concept of diplomatic immunity is supposed to protect diplomats, not hired guns who carry Glock automatics and shoot people down in the streets. Davis said his victims were would-be robbers, but there are suspicions that they might have been ISI tails trying to keep track of Davis. The facts have been muddled since the first.
The United States at first said Davis was a staff member at the Lahore consulate, a status which would not have extended diplomatic immunity to him. Then the United States changed its story to say he was on the administrative and technical staff of the embassy in Islamabad, which meant he would have had diplomatic immunity.
Then, and only then, did it come out that he was ex-special forces, ex-Blackwater, and at present a contract hire for the CIA, the stuff of Pakistan’s darkest nightmares about the United States of America.
On a recent tip I was offered the opportunity to buy a CD set from an Islamabad book store entitled: “CIA threats to Pakistan, episodes one through nine.”
Pakistan has cooperated with us in arresting Al Qaeda operatives, allowed 80 percent of our Afghan war material to transit Pakistan and enabled drone attacks on its soil. But no ally can sit by when hundreds of contractors are let lose in the streets with Glocks.
Obama’s trouble shooter, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, promised the Pakistanis that, if released, Raymond Davis would be tried in the United States, which is the standard procedure for serious crimes committed under diplomatic immunity. Davis would not be free to shoot two young men in the streets of Washington with impunity, even if they were robbers. But the problem of supplying witnesses would make a trial in this country very difficult. Also, it is doubtful that CIA staffers would want to testify under oath on anything to do with sources and methods.
Pakistan should return Davis to the Americans. And America should rein in its loose CIA contractors.
During this sorry episode I have heard it said that we are in a war in Pakistan, and that, therefore, Davis’ homicides were justified as a soldier’s would be. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are not at war with Pakistan, and that Pakistan has to be part of the solution.