Pakistan and US at odds over CIA 'contractor' - IRISH TIMES, 270211

Pakistan and US at odds over CIA 'contractor'

PATRICK SMYTH

WORLDVIEW: The actions of a covert operative have created a major row about diplomatic immunity

‘HE WOULD always walk away from a fight. That’s just who he is.” Michelle Wade’s perspective on her brother, Raymond Davis, is, well, sisterly. The problem is that small-town South Virginian Davis did not walk away from the fight and is now in jail in Lahore, the epicentre of a huge diplomatic row engulfing US-Pakistan relations and convulsing volatile Pakistan politics.

This week things just got worse for him when the US was forced to acknowledge media reports that far from being a humble consular clerk, Davis, a former special forces soldier accused of two murders, was in fact a CIA “contractor” – on $200,000 a year – collecting intelligence and conducting surveillance on militants.

When Davis, driving alone in Lahore on January 27th in an impoverished area rarely visited by foreigners, drew up at a junction he was confronted by two petty thieves on a motorbike brandishing a gun. He shot them both dead with his illegally held Glock automatic. Ten shots, several to the victims’ backs, finishing one off as he fled the scene, according to a police crime report in the Daily Times.

To compound matters, a third man was killed when an unmarked Toyota Land Cruiser, racing to Davis’s rescue, drove the wrong way down a one-way street and ran over a motorcyclist. As the Land Cruiser drove “recklessly” back to the US consulate, the police report says, items fell out, including 100 bullets, a black mask and a piece of cloth with the American flag.

Pakistani officials have demanded that the SUV duo be turned over, but US officials say they have already left the country.

Davis, however, remains under special detention in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail while the authorities decide whether to accede to its US ally and major donor’s demand that he be granted diplomatic immunity. A ruling on the issue by the courts is expected by March 14th but it has already cost former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Quresh his job after his refusal to accede to government pressure to comply with intense American lobbying.

Part of the legal case will hinge on whether the US can show Davis had full diplomatic status, and hence full immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, or whether he is shown to be a less-protected species, a consular official, covered by a 1963 treaty allowing host countries to prosecute them if they commit a “grave crime”.

Ironically, for the times that are in it, the US will rely on the precedent set in 1984 when someone inside the Libyan embassy in London fired a gun out of its window killing a British policewoman. The British government allowed the staff to return to Libya unprosecuted.

Calls have been made at mass demonstrations for Davis’s execution and, fearful that he may be killed or snatched by angry protesters storming the prison, he is being detained in an area monitored by CCTV and special forces. His immediate guards have been disarmed to prevent assassination and his food is sampled by dogs to ensure it is poison-free. Some 25 jihadi prisoners have been transferred to other facilities.

The story has enraged the public, playing into widespread suspicions about the undercover role of US special forces and mercenaries fighting terrorism or allegedly plotting against Pakistan’s nuclear programme. And that there are dozens, even thousands, of gun-toting Davises wandering the streets of Pakistan’s cities, with the silent, complicit approval of the government. A fear that may put many hundreds of innocent American diplomats, aid and NGO workers at risk.

In Islamabad, the US is spending $1 billion to expand its fortified embassy compound to support hundreds of new employees, construction now fuelling fresh media scrutiny. Dozens of additional diplomats and aid workers are also being assigned to consulates in Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore.

“They may be justifying their work as for an NGO or other US agency, but the prime purpose of their stay in the city is to spy,” says Fakhr-e-Alam Khan, a leader of a religious party, of US workers in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The news that Davis had worked for Xe, formerly the notorious Blackwater company, a byword for covert American operations, has fanned the flames. US officials say Blackwater has had only two major contracts in Pakistan – loading missiles on to CIA drones at the secret Shamsi airbase in Balochistan, and supervising the construction of a police training facility in Peshawar. They say Davis had been providing security for a CIA team tracking militants – the “security” tag an important defence strategy to avoid the capital offence of espionage.

Since the US is not at war in Pakistan, its military is largely constrained from operating in the country. So the CIA has taken on an expanded role, operating armed drones that kill militants in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan and running covert operations, some believed to be against Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, which almost certainly knew of Davis’s role, has complained bitterly about the affair and warned it will damage co-operation with US agencies already suspicious of its historic links between the ISI and Taliban groups.

Given the public uproar, and the law notwithstanding, Pakistan analysts say it is hard to see how the deeply unpopular government of President Asif Ali Zardari can politically afford to set Davis free.