A CIA contractor held by Pakistani authorities was acquitted of two counts of murder Wednesday after blood money was paid to the families of the two men he shot dead. The verdict brings an end to a diplomatic row between the US and Pakistan that began after the contractor's arrest in late January, but could lead to further unrest here.
“This was not a case of personal enmity resulting in murder – it’s an act of terrorism of an American citizen and blood money [should] not [have been] applicable,” says Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for Islamic charity Jamat-ud-Dawa, which experts believe is a front organization for Laskhar-e-Taiba, the militant organization Davis was apparently observing in reconnaissance missions.
The Pakistani government, by contrast, had hoped to save face in public by allowing the courts to decide on the politically sensitive issue. "The Raymond Davis issue was decided under Pakistani laws in a Pakistani court," said President Asif Al Zardairi's spokesperson Farhnaz Ispahani in a tweet shortly after the verdict.
Some 18 relatives of the two slain men, Muhammad Fahim and Faizan Haider, were present in court to accept the money “and independently verified they had pardoned him [Davis],” provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah told private television channel Geo News.
Blood-money, or "diyya," is routinely used to settle murder cases in Pakistan, in compliance with Sharia law. It was seen as the last ditch effort to free Davis by the US authorities after the Lahore High Court failed to accept US claims of diplomatic immunity on Monday.
In comments to reporters in Cairo, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied that the US made the payment Wednesday. Though the US denies paying compensation in the case, Pakistani media reports indicate that more than $2 million were given to the two families, though this could not be verified at time of writing.
In a statement, US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter also said, “The families of the victims of the January 27 incident in Lahore have pardoned Raymond Davis. I am grateful for their generosity. I wish to express, once again, my regret for the incident and my sorrow at the suffering it caused.”
He added that the US has opened an investigation into the Davis incident.
End or just the beginning?
Ordinarily, such a payment would be the end of the issue. Last summer, the US embassy in Islamabad made a similar blood money payment after a diplomat allegedly killed a young man while driving drunk. “Once [blood money] is accepted then the accused is acquitted and the matter is closed,” says Khalid Ranjha, a lawyer familiar with the Davis case.
But the timing of the Davis verdict, which took most observers by surprise, has led to rumors that the family was coerced. Reports in the Pakistani media suggest family members had effectively gone missing for the past two days and were pressured by authorities into accepting a deal.
Additionally, the high-profile nature of the case may mean it could linger.
Why was Davis in Pakistan?
While the full details of Davis’s mission in Pakistan are not known, experts believe the case exposed covert CIA operations in the country, a close ally in the war in Afghanistan.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, which is banned by the United Nations and Pakistan, told the Monitor that Davis was likely conducting surveillance operations against LeT as well as a host of other Punjab-based militant and sectarian groups based in Lahore.
“The Pakistani government knows we don’t cause problems in Pakistan, so they don’t need to take action against us. The United States felt it must take its own actions,” he says.
That public realization that the US does act independently of the Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had plunged relations between the CIA and the ISI to a new low.
According to Ejaz Haider, a military analyst with close ties to the Pakistani military, the incident also exposed faultlines between Pakistan’s civilian government, which issued an entry visa for Davis last year, and Pakistan’s spy agencies, which ensured Davis did not receive the diplomatic ID card he needed to be recognized as a diplomat according to Pakistani law.
“This [the blood money] was the only way out – but at the same time it’s very clear the Americans have confirmed the fact that the man was not a diplomat,” says Mr. Haider, adding that such a deal had been expected since Senator John Kerry's visit to Pakistan in late February. He also said that the US may now think twice about bypassing the ISI in Pakistan.