This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka
By Ameen Izzadeen
The world media’s attention is on the people’s revolts in the Middle East. It’s fair enough, given the strategic and economic importance of the region and the attendant political skullduggery.
But an equally explosive crisis in Pakistan, strangely enough, receives little media space. The underreporting of the diplomatic dispute between the United States and Pakistan is partly because of the world media’s attention is on the Middle East and partly because of political pressure on the mainstream media.
The New York Times and the Washington Post admitted this week that the White House had requested them to underreport the crisis. Is it because the crisis involving a killer spy and gunslinger has exposed the US double dealings?
In what analysts describe as the biggest intelligence fiasco since the U-2 spy plane was shot down by the Soviets in 1960, the Raymond Davis case has become a major embarrassment to the Barack Obama administration.
In the U-2 case, the US refused to admit that it was a spy plane. But when the Soviets produced the proof, the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration was forced to admit that the plane was on a surveillance mission.
Incidentally, the U-2 aircraft took off from a US airbase in Pakistan, where a similar, if not worse, case involving a killer spy has made the people of Pakistan furious.
For once, the bickering Pakistanis are united in their resolve to see that justice is done and Davis is punished for killing two Pakistani youths on January 27. If the Asif Ali Zardari government wilts under US pressure and releases Davis, Pakistan might explode in an Egypt-like revolution.
Davis, a technical officer serving in the US consulate, travelling in a bullet-proof vehicle shot and killed two motorcyclists in broad daylight on a busy Lahore street on January 27 and fled the scene. He was caught by public-spirited passers by after a chase seen only in movies and handed over to the police. Soon after the killings, a US embassy vehicle which rushed to the scene to rescue Davis, ran over a man and killed him. The US claimed Davis was a diplomat and acted in self-defence. But Pakistani police say the victims were shot in the back. That the release-Davis call also came from President Obama underscored the US anxiety over the secrets Davis could spill during interrogation.
Davis is a CIA operative and works for Blackwater (now known as Xe), a US firm specializing in global thuggery. The passport which the Pakistan police officers seized from him at the time of his arrest was an ordinary passport. It was stamped with an ordinary visa issued at the Pakistan embassy in Washington. Moreover, two days prior to the incident, the US embassy had sent a list of names of its diplomats to Pakistan’s Foreign Office in keeping with the usual diplomatic practice. Davis’ name was not on it. But the day after the Lahore killings, the US embassy sent a revised list with Davis’s name on it. The US embassy also produced a diplomatic passport with a diplomatic visa issued at Pakistan’s Foreign Office in Islamabad, deepening the mystery. Well, dollars can buy even parents in countries steeped in corruption.
The Zardari regime initially showed a willingness to comply with the US request, but Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi insisted that Davis was not a diplomat and should be tried in Pakistan. When Zardari brought pressure on him, Qureshi resigned.
Reports indicate that Davis’s mission was to destabilize Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on terror. He is said to have established contacts with the very terrorist group that the US is fighting — Tehrik-e-Taliban or the Pakistani Taliban. He had plans to provide nuclear fissile material to the terrorists to be used in a crude bomb, the detection of which or the explosion of which would have stirred worldwide calls for the dismantling of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Will the Zardari regime succumb to US pressure and let Davis go free? Some say Zardari may agree to a trial by a third country as some US officials now suggest. If only the incident had happened in Islamabad, the federal government could have used its powers and let Davis go. But since it had happened in the opposition Pakistan Muslim League administered province of Punjab, the federal government could do very little, especially when 170 million Pakistanis are united in their resolve to seek justice for the victims. Even the family members of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani woman scientist who was sentenced to 86 years by a US court — a ruling seen by many human rights activist as a travesty of justice — for attempting to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan, has rejected a swap.
That the Americans are trying to destabilise their country is no longer a secret from the Pakistanis. Prior to the Davis case, many an incident involving gun carrying Americans had exposed US secret designs. One such case was the October 2009 arrest of two Dutch diplomats carrying advanced weapons as they were roaming the streets of Islamabad in an unmarked car. To the surprise of the police, US embassy officials arrived at the scene to rescue them.
The Zardari government’s soft handling of such a serious incident drew public uproar.
When asked why the two Dutch diplomats were released and the Americans were spared the censure, Interior Minster Rehman Malik told the media, “Under the diplomatic ethics we can’t hold any diplomats except those who are involved in a murder case.”
Most Pakistanis suspect a US hand in the Marriot Hotel bombing of 2008 and the assassination of Pakistani President Zia ul Haq in 1988 in a plane blast which also killed the US ambassador.
With friends like the United States, who needs enemies?