News that Raymond Davis is CIA could further jeopardize his return

The news that Raymond Davis, the American being held in Pakistan for a double murder, is a CIA agent that previously worked for Blackwater adds public pressure on Pakistan not to release him.

Hamza Ahmed/AP/File
In this Jan. 28 file photo, Pakistani security officials escort Raymond Allen Davis to a local court in Lahore, Pakistan. News that Davis, the American detained in Pakistan for a deadly double shooting earlier this month, works for the CIA raises the stakes of street resistance to returning him to the United States.

The revelation that Raymond Davis, the American detained in Pakistan for a deadly double shooting earlier this month, works for the CIA raises the stakes of street resistance to returning him to the United States.

US officials initially described Mr. Davis as a “technical adviser” with diplomatic immunity. Now US officials are telling Western media that, in fact, he works for the CIA and at some point worked for private security firm Blackwater.

Past cases have fueled conspiracies that the CIA and Blackwater (now known as Xe) are entrenched in Pakistan. The Pakistani government denied it had given permission for US drone strikes, until drones were photographed parked at a Pakistani airfield. And US claims that its special forces were only involved in training were proven false by documents unearthed by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks.

Groups like the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) have found traction on the Davis case because of popular fears that America may call many of the shots and that the Pakistani government rolls over quietly. JI has staged street protests in major cities to pressure the government not to return Davis, holding signs that included: “Friends of America are traitors.”

While many experts doubt Pakistan is in the kind of peril that is sweeping governments out of power in the Muslim world, the government still faces a strong challenge from opposition parties stoking public fears. Analysts say this means that the US must now show calculated deference to Pakistan during the difficult mission ahead to get Davis back.

Davis, who has been detained since the Jan. 27 incident, claims that he shot two Pakistani motorcyclists in self-defense, although Pakistani authorities have challenged this account. He is expected to face trial next month in Pakistan on charges of murder and possession of an illegal weapon.

What now?

“The US has to focus on a solution to this crisis that somehow demonstrates that the US does respect Pakistani sovereignty,” says Lisa Curtis, a Heritage Foundation fellow visiting New Delhi to release a new book, “Counter-terrorism in South Asia.”

What exactly that diplomatic maneuver would look like, she cannot say. But, she adds, “patience is really required here: You have to let temperatures go down.”

She says it is a positive sign that the US has reinstituted high-level contacts by sending Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts and dispatching soon the new special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. She noted that the US had previously cancelled a trilateral meeting with Pakistan in Washington scheduled for today.

“The fact that the US has cancelled diplomatic meetings … I think that was really unprecedented even given all the problems over the years,” she said in a speech earlier.

'Pakistan is not Egypt'

Just how much to push Pakistan has long posed a key challenge to US policymakers partly because of fears in Washington about the country’s stability.

Vice President Joe Biden created a stir recently by grouping Pakistan within the wave of unrest sweeping across the Muslim world in an interview with PBS’s NewsHour. When asked about it, Prime Minister Yousaf Gillani rejected the comparison, saying: “Our institutions are working and democracy is functional.”

The issue has picked up steam, however, with politician Imran Khan saying Pakistan is ripe for revolution, which could be triggered by repatriating Davis.

The question was taken up by Sumit Ganguly, a South Asia scholar at Indiana University, in an article titled, “Repeat after me: Pakistan is not Egypt.”

“Along with periodic, if not regular elections and a quasi-independent judiciary, Pakistan also has viable political parties. Internal democracy in these parties may be sorely lacking, but they do provide avenues for political association and mobilization,” writes Dr. Ganguly.

At the same time as these democratic institutions give some vent to popular sentiment, the nation’s powerful Army provides a check on political movements. Pakistanis have never had the chance to vote an elected government out of power, notes Ganguly, due to military dictatorships.

While JI and the militant group Jamaat-ud-Dawa have talked about mass uprisings if Davis is handed back to the Americans, the Army wouldn’t allow it to get out of hand and neither group would cross the Army, says Wilson John, a Pakistan expert at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

And the blame goes to....

For all the frustration among Pakistanis about their government’s complicity with the US, Mr. Gillani’s civilian government – not the military leaders who approve US cooperative deals – gets most of the blame.

That’s because the civilian government – more than the military – is supposed to be responsive to popular demands, argues Khalid Rahman, an analyst with the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad.

“Pakistan is in a transitional phase where the people have started realizing how much influence they can have on the affairs and the policies of the government,” says Mr. Rahman. If Gillani hands over Davis, that “will certainly influence the next elections” slated for 2013.

Ms. Curtis, however, sees some potential dangers from the popular unhappiness over Pakistani cooperation with the US. She doesn’t see an Egypt-like uprising, but she worries about an emboldening of anti-US elements in the Pakistani security forces.

“I see more a [potential] failure of senior military leadership being able to rein in those elements and succumbing to that overall feeling of ‘We don’t need the US, let’s go our own way.’ And then you have a much more insular, extremist mindset ruling the country,” she says.

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