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How the Raymond Davis case could strain US-Pakistan ties even further

The gulf in how the US and Pakistan view the murder case against CIA operative Raymond Davis has the potential to make the diplomatic spat get even uglier.

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The US introduced ambiguity into Davis’s role by its initial statements, which said Davis was employed at the Lahore consulate. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also said initially that "Raymond Davis" wasn’t the correct name of the man, eroding trust among Pakistanis that the current US story is the straight story. It also later came out that Davis was working for the Central Intelligence Agency.

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Beyond US statements, Davis appeared to be operating out of a safe house in Lahore, damaging the credibility of the US line that he was an employee of the embassy in Islamabad.

“There was a lot of murkiness,” says Najmuddin Shaikh, a former Pakistani foreign secretary. But he says, that murkiness cannot be resolved strictly in terms of the Vienna Convention.

For Mr. Shaikh, the ambiguities will need to be worked out between the two countries as part of a political negotiation, not a legal ruling. Shaikh adds, however, that if Pakistan sought a legal remedy, “I think we would have a very strong case.”

US officials don't seem to see these shades of gray and view the case as clear-cut. In a background briefing last month, a senior US official said that Pakistan was notified on Jan. 20, 2010, that Davis was a member of the administrative and technical staff of the embassy in Islamabad. From that point on, according to Convention rules, Davis has diplomatic immunity unless Pakistan declares him “not acceptable.” They did not, according to the US.

“Once we notify, end of story,” said the official.

Looking for the graceful out

Yet the story has not ended and efforts to find a graceful end to the standoff have failed. Spiro says that one possible US olive branch – offering to criminally investigate Davis once in the US – isn’t even much of an option since it's doubtful he could be charged under US law.

In Pakistan, there’s discussion of offering “blood money” to the families of the two killed pursuers. But the brother of one of the men, Muhammad Faheem, rejects the idea.

“We have already said we won’t accept blood money. We will take our decision based on the will of the Pakistani people,” says Waseem Shamshad.

For Fair, the Pakistanis are simply throwing up a “legal loophole-a-palooza.” She sees the two pursuers killed by Davis as tied to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. Davis had been tracking Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terror outfit with ties to the ISI, and the agency decided to retaliate.

Not returning Davis is a move that could ultimately jeopardize congressional money to Pakistan, she says.

“This is actually quite serious because it demonstrates that Pakistan is not rule-bound. And because this is ISI versus CIA it brings into public relief the differences between the organizations’ goals and threat perceptions,” says Fair.

* Issam Ahmed contributed to this report from Islamabad, Pakistan.


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