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Friday, March 18, 2011

Release of Raymond Davis: Ghairat Brigade Activated Against the System. US Revives Ties with Pakistan. Government Retreating to its Shell?

By Aijaz Ahmed
Raymond Davis, undated photo. Courtesy AP
How important was Raymond Davis for United States or its interests in the South Asian Region is evident from the developments, which  started taking place within 24 hours of the secret deal that saw CIA spy flying off from his detention cell in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore on charges of double murder. Strong signals are received in Islamabad that US has started working on modalities to resume the high level interactions with Pakistan that had been held up because of the row. However, much water has flown under the bridges and the situation is not as easy as Establishments of both sides would presume it to be. Reason is very simple: the 'ghairat (honor) brigade' is activated to grab the advantage and cash in the public anger against the democratic system in the country and some sections of the traditional anti democracy elements in the agencies are said to be providing behind the scene support to keep pressure on the federal and the provincial governments and the United States. 
Following the release of Davis the Pakistani mission in Washington has become center of activity for revival of stalled Pak-US relations, sources confirmed. It is being said that on Thursday both sides (State Department and Pak Embassy) resumed their interaction after almost six long and tryring weeks and the first thing they took up was rescheduling of the meetings that could not be held —  Strategic Dialogue and other bilateral engagements. Trilateral meeting and Zardari’s delayed US visit also came under discussion. Pakistan government, however, faces intense pressure at home to fully disclose the deal that earned Davis freedom.

The new dates of Trilateral meeting were fixed and the schedule of Zardari's US visit was about to be announced, while the deadly Drone Attack in Datt Khel (North Waziristan) added  fuel to the fire which was already burning very strong on the issue of the release of Mr. Davis in dubious circumstances.

It is interesting to note that nobody at the GHQ, the federal government or Punjab is ready to take responsibility of the deal that had been struck between the families of the deceased Faizan and Fahim shot by Mr. Davis in Lahore on January 27th. The reaction of ruling party of Punjab, the PML-N is quite interesting. The CM and the Law minister Punjab are said to be direct part of the activities that were going on behind the scene to convince aggrieved families for accepting blood money are not just refusing their role, but they along with the party leadership in the parliament are demanding a public statement from prime Minister Gillani on the release. Reaction of Ch. Nisar, Ahsan iqbal, Pervez Rasheed, Zafar Ali Shah, Khwaja Asif and Khwaja Saad Rafique was quite interesting. While terming the release a big crime, Ch. Nisar Ali Khan the PML-N central leader and leader of the opposition in National Assembly threatened the government that his party will agitate the issue in the parliament and launch a protest during President Zardari’s speech to the joint sitting of the Parliament on 22nd March.

On the other hand , sources strongly confirm and the media sticks with the revelations that Punjab Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah had reportedly visited the Kot lakhpat Jail early morning Wednesday. The Punjab Police sources have revealed that the law minister arrived in the jail at 3:30 early morning, followed by Judge Mr Ojla who is said to have held his court in jail compound on Charpai’s (local made beds), and completed the whole proceeding before 6 in the morning.

Nisar and his coterie while in their reaction ignored another fact that the prosecution was under their own government in Punjab; Raymond Davis was in their custody and IG Punjab himself was conducting an inquiry. The case was within the provincial jurisdiction, but nobody in the PML-N hawks takes these facts into account. They have become part of the chorus demanding disclosure of details of new agreement on CIA-ISI cooperation. The only information in the public knowledge is that ISI and CIA reworked their parameters of cooperation. But, what would be its implications in the long run remains to be seen. On the other hand, the PPP hawks like faisal Raza Abidi and Law Minister Sindh Mr Ayaz Soomro have joined certain PML-N leaders’ demand for a suo moto action on the release by Chief Justice. PPP has maintained a position that it has accepted the court decision as per commitment and that was also accepted by the Punjab Government. The provincial prosecution department under chief prosecutor and law minister Rana Sana Ullah failed to file an appeal against his bail on other charges like illegal arms and spy gadgets.

In fact PML-N intends to control the damage done by its direct involvement and not let the 'ghairat brigade' to destabilize its government in Punjab, as the traditional ghairat (honor) brigade (including some TV Anchors) ran amok after CIA operative Raymond Davis’ release through payment of blood money accusing the federal and provincial governments and military and intelligence services of bartering national interest and a secret sell out.

Television bulletins and talk shows are still filled with emotional talk of capitulation without anyone giving consideration to the fact that the country could have ill afforded the continuation of the dispute, which during the past two months had brought the entire Pak-US relationship to a standstill and was ominously threatening the strategic partnership. The US Embassy and its Consulate in Pakistan have been closed for indefinite period, and one thing was quite evident that the outburst of emotions pushed the government into shell. There was no comment from the government – not a single line from presidency, or the foreign office on this very important development, except a single liner from the prime Minister Gillani that court order is accepted as per commitment.  Fear of a backlash was so intense in the government circles that Foreign Office canceled its Thursday weekly media briefing. This gave a field day to right wingers, who used the opportunity to the hilt and lashed out at the government and the military.

It is quite obvious and is reported by Indus Herald earlier and is being confirmed by the global media reports that the two spy agencies had first resolved their own differences before the jailed CIA spy flew from Lahore to Bagram Airbase. One thing could be said with surety is that the deal, which had President Obama’s nod, could mark a serious change in the ISI-CIA collaboration parameters. ISI is said to have got advantage to a certain extent, but there are indications that military leadership has also agreed to address the American concerns that in the first place pushed it to developing its own network inside Pakistan for infiltrating jehadi groups.

One obvious indication in this respect came from ISAF Commander Gen Petraeus in his testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, where he said: “we are coordinating closely with the Pakistani Army to conduct ISAF operations that will provide the anvil on the Afghan side of the Durand Line against which Pakistani Taliban elements can be driven by Pakistani operations in the border areas.”

This, military sources, confirmed implied that Pakistan had agreed to prioritize military operations against extremists having safe havens in its tribal belt, which had so far been not possible because of military compulsions. Would that mean Pak army operation in North Waziristan? It could be anyone’s guess.

Closing Note: Following the strong reaction by General Kiani on US drone attack killing forty five civilian jirga members in Data Khel, the government of Pakistan lodged strong protest with Unted States. In a rare incident, the US Ambassador was summoned at Foreign Office to lodge a protest and was handed over a written complaint in this regard. The government has also announced boycotting the upcoming trilateral meeting and has also indicated another delay of President Zardari’s visit until an apology is tendered by United States Government and a commitment is given for not making such attacks. Sources in the government are of the view that the boycott is decided in “consultation” with the military leadership and in the context of the pressure being exerted by the Ghairat brigade. The Foreign office first time in recent history issued two separate statements over a single issue. The first statement issued by Foreign office said:

“In pursuance of the directives of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, the US Ambassador, Mr. Cameron Munter was summoned to the Foreign Office today by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and a strong protest was made regarding yesterday’s Drone attacks that caused many casualties.”

According to the statement, ‘Ambassador Munter was categorically conveyed that such strikes were not only “unacceptable” but also constituted “a flagrant violation of humanitarian norms and law”. It was evident that the fundamentals of our relations need to be revisited. Pakistan should not be taken for granted nor treated as a client state. It was for the White House and the State Department to hold back those who have been trying to veer Pakistan-US relationship away from the track.

‘Ambassador Munter was also conveyed that under the current circumstances, Pakistan would not be able to participate in the Trilateral meeting between Afghanistan-Pakistan-US, proposed by the US in Brussels on 26 March 2011. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, was initially expected to participate in the trilateral meeting.

Ambassador Munter said that he understood clearly that this was not a proforma demarche. He will rush to Washington to convey Pakistan’s message to the US Administration at the highest levels.’

Second statement issued on behalf of newly appointed state minister for foreign affairs, Ms. Rabbani Khar stated:

“Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar has strongly condemned the Drone attacks in which a number of innocent lives were lost yesterday.

“Minister of State stressed that yesterday’s Drone strikes were not only counter productive but also in flagrant disregard of Pakistan’s sovereignty and international principles and norms. Such strikes constitute a matter of serious concern and raises issues regarding respect for human rights and humanitarian law. Irresponsible and unlawful conduct cannot be justified on any grounds.

“Minister of State added that in view of the Drone attacks, Pakistan would be unable to participate in the trilateral meeting between Pakistan-Afghanistan-US, proposed for 26 March 2011 at Brussels.”

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