Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Davis Case and Civil Unrest

Pakistan has traditionally been considered an ally of the United States, but the strong Islamic influence in the country has opposed this association and is very anti-American. Since 9/11 Pakistan has been a key player in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban but their cooperation has been highly questionable at best. Over the past few years the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been strained. The tension is evidenced by both public opinion (in Pakistan) and by concrete examples. For example, in mid-December, the CIA station chief in Islamabad was forced to leave the country after his name was disclosed in a class-action lawsuit brought by relatives of civilians killed by unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in the Pakistani tribal badlands.

The Pakistani lawsuit against the CIA station chief was no coincidence. It occurred shortly after the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was accused in a civil lawsuit of being involved in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. The suit was brought in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn by family members of the American rabbi killed alongside his wife in Mumbai by Pakistan-based Islamist militants.
Like Iraq, Pakistan is a country that has seen considerable controversy over American security contractors over the past several years. The government of Pakistan has gone after security contractor companies like DynCorp and its Pakistani affiliate InterRisk and Xe (formerly known as Blackwater), which has become the Pakistani version of the bogeyman. In addition to the clandestine security and intelligence work the company was conducting in Pakistan, in 2009 the Taliban even began to blame Xe for suicide bombing attacks that killed civilians. The end result is that American security contractors have become extremely unpopular in Pakistan. They are viewed not only as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty but also as trigger-happy killers. 

This is the environment in which the ‘Davis shooting’ occurred. Even though some Pakistani civilians apparently came forward and reported that they had been robbed at gunpoint by the men Davis shot, other Pakistani groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) — the successor to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was presumably banned by the Pakistani government — have demanded that Davis be hanged. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), an Islamist political party, has also demanded that Davis be hanged and has called for large protests if he is released without a court order. Interest in this issue is not just confined to Islamist groups. There are some right-wing conservative nationalists and even some secular liberals who are asking: “If the United States can give CIA shooter Mir Amal Kansi the death penalty, why can’t Pakistan do the same thing to Davis?”

The result is that the Davis case has aroused much controversy and passion in Pakistan. This not only complicates the position of the Pakistani government but also raises the distinct possibility that there will be civil unrest if Davis is released.

On Feb. 13, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued a statement demanding that the government of Pakistan execute U.S. government contractor Raymond Davis or turn him over to the TTP for judgment. Davis, a contract security officer for the CIA, has been in Pakistani custody since a Jan. 27 incident in which he shot two men who reportedly pointed a pistol at him in an apparent robbery attempt.

Pakistani officials have corroborated Davis’ version of events and, according to their preliminary report, Davis appears to have acted in self-defense. From a tactical perspective, the incident appears to have been (in tactical security parlance) a “good shoot,” but the matter has been taken out of the tactical realm and has become mired in transnational politics and Pakistani public sentiment. Whether the shooting was justified or not, Davis has now become a pawn in a larger game being played out between the United States and Pakistan. 

Unless the Pakistani government is willing and able to defuse the situation, the case could indeed provoke violent protests against the United States, and U.S. citizens and businesses in Pakistan should be prepared for this backlash.

Details of the Case

Raymond Davis claims that after he had withdrawn money from an ATM and was driving back to his place of employment 2 armed men followed him and attempted to rob him. He shoot and killed both men in self-defense. His version of what happened has been verified by witnesses at the scene. One of the reasons that the Pakistanis have been able to retain Davis in custody is that while he may have been traveling on a “black” diplomatic U.S. passport, not everyone who holds a diplomatic passport is afforded full diplomatic immunity. The only people afforded full diplomatic immunity are those who are on a list of diplomats officially accredited as diplomatic agents by the receiving country. The rest of the foreign employees at an embassy or a consulate in the receiving country who are not on the diplomatic list and who are not accredited as diplomatic agents under the Vienna Convention are only protected from prosecution related to their official duties. 

As a contract employee assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Davis was likely not on the diplomatic list and probably did not enjoy full diplomatic immunity. Protecting himself during a robbery attempt would not be considered part of his official function in the country, and therefore his actions that day would not be covered under functional immunity. 

In all likelihood, Davis was briefed regarding his legal status by his company and by the CIA prior to being assigned. He also would have been told that, while he had limited immunity, the U.S. government would do its best to take care of him if some incident occurred. However, it would have been made clear to him that in working as a protective contractor he was running a risk and that if there was an incident on or off duty, he could wind up in trouble. All security contractors working overseas know this and accept the risk as part of the job. 

At the time of the shooting, of course, Davis would not have had time to leisurely ponder this potential legal quagmire. He saw a threat and reacted to it. Undoubtedly, the U.S. government will do all it can to help Davis out — especially since the case appears to be a good-shoot scenario and not a case of negligence or bad judgment. Indeed, on Feb. 15, U.S. Sen. John Kerry flew to Islamabad in a bid to seek Davis’ release. However, in spite of American efforts and international convention, Davis’ case is complicated greatly by the fact that he was working in Pakistan and by the current state of U.S.-Pakistani relations. 

Civil Unrest in Pakistan

Like many parts of the developing world, civil unrest in Pakistan can quickly turn to extreme violence. One example is the November 1979 incident in which an enraged mob seized and destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. While there were only two Americans killed in that incident the fire that the mob set inside the building very nearly killed all the employees who had sought shelter in the embassy’s inner safe-haven area. Two local Pakistani staff members were also killed in the fire.

The 1979 attack was said to have been sparked by reports that the U.S. government was behind an assault on the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Saudi militants the day before. In reality, the mob that stormed and torched the U.S. Embassy was orchestrated by the Pakistani government, which was angry that the United States cut off financial aid to the country in April 1979. Not only did the Pakistani government facilitate the busing of large numbers of protesters to the U.S. Embassy, its security forces also stood aside and refused to protect the embassy from the onslaught of the angry mob. The embassy assault was Pakistan’s not-so-subtle way of sending a message to the U.S. government.

In February 2006 during the unrest generated by the Mohammed cartoon fiasco, mobs in Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi and Lahore attacked a wide range of Western business targets. The worst of this violence occurred in Lahore, where a rampaging mob burned down four buildings housing the four-star Ambassador Hotel, two banks, a KFC restaurant franchise and the regional office of Telenor, a Norwegian cell phone company. 

Based on this history, the current tension between the United States and Pakistan, public sentiment in Pakistan regarding U.S. security contractors and the possibility of groups like JuD and JeI attempting to take advantage of the situation, there is a very real possibility that Davis’ release could spark mob violence in Pakistan (and specifically Lahore). Even if the Pakistani government does try to defuse the situation, there are other parties who will attempt to stir up violence. 

Live Long and Prosper...

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