CIA operative Raymond Davis’ 2011 killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore not only led to a sharp deterioration in US-Pakistan political and security relations but also sparked off shouting matches between American government official working in different directions to secure his release, according to a new book.
“After Davis was picked up by the Lahore police, the (American) Embassy (in Islamabad) became a house divided by more than mere geography,” journalist Mark Mazzetti wrote in “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth”, an article based on the book appeared in The New York Times on Tuesday.
“Just days before the shootings, the CIA sent a new station chief to Islamabad. Old-school and stubborn, the new chief did not come to Pakistan to be friendly with the ISI Instead, he wanted to recruit more Pakistani agents to work for the CIA under the ISI’s nose, expand electronic surveillance of ISI offices and share little information with Pakistani intelligence officers,” the author said.
“That hard-nosed attitude inevitably put him at odds with the American ambassador in Islamabad, Cameron Munter. A bookish career diplomat with a PhD in history, Munter had ascended the ranks of the State Department’s bureaucracy and accepted several postings in Iraq before ultimately taking over the American mission in Islamabad, in late 2010. The job was considered one of the State Department’s most important and difficult assignments, and Munter had the burden of following Anne W Patterson, an aggressive diplomat who, in the three years before Munter arrived, cultivated close ties to officials in the Bush and Obama administrations and won praise from the CIA for her unflinching support for drone strikes in the tribal areas.
“Munter saw some value to the drone programme but was sceptical about the long-term benefits. Arriving in Islamabad at a time when relations between the United States and Pakistan were quickly deteriorating, Munter wondered whether the pace of the drone war might be undercutting relations with an important ally for the quick fix of killing midlevel terrorists. He would learn soon enough that his views about the drone program ultimately mattered little.
“In the Obama administration, when it came to questions about war and peace in Pakistan, it was what the CIA believed that really counted”.
“With Davis sitting in prison, Munter argued that it was essential to go immediately to the head of the ISI at the time, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, to cut a deal. The US would admit that Davis was working for the CIA, and Davis would quietly be spirited out of the country, never to return again. But the CIA objected. Davis had been spying on a militant group with extensive ties to the ISI, and the CIA didn’t want to own up to it. Top CIA officials worried that appealing for mercy from the ISI might doom Davis. He could be killed in prison before the Obama administration could pressure Islamabad to release him on the grounds that he was a foreign diplomat with immunity from local laws - even those prohibiting murder. On the day of Davis’s arrest, the CIA station chief told Munter that a decision had been made to stonewall the Pakistanis. Don’t cut a deal, he warned, adding, Pakistan is the enemy.
“Some experts in the State Department warned that expanding the CIA war in Pakistan would further stoke anti-American anger on the streets and could push the country into chaos. But officials inside the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center argued for escalating the drone campaign without the ISI’s blessing. Since the first CIA drone strike in Pakistan in 2004, only a small number of militants on the CIA’s list of ‘high-value targets’ had been killed by drone strikes, and other potential strikes were scuttled at the last minute because of delays in getting Pakistani approval, or because the targets seemed to have been tipped off and had fled. “The strategy meant that American officials, from top to bottom, had to dissemble both in public and in private about what exactly Davis had been doing in the country. On Feb 15, more than two weeks after the shootings, President Obama offered his first comments about the Davis affair. The matter was simple, Obama said in a news conference: Davis, “our diplomat in Pakistan,” should be immediately released under the “very simple principle” of diplomatic immunity. “If our diplomats are in another country,” said the president, “then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution.”
“Was Davis working for the CIA? Pasha asked. No, he’s not one of ours, Panetta replied. Panetta went on to say that the matter was out of his hands, and that the issue was being handled inside State Department channels. Pasha was furious, and he decided to leave Davis’ fate in the hands of the judges in Lahore. The United States had just lost its chance, he told others, to quickly end the dispute. “That the CIA director would be overseeing a large clandestine network of American spies in Pakistan and then lie to the ISI director about the extent of America’s secret war in the country showed just how much the relationship had unravelled since the days in 2002, when the ISI teamed with the CIA in Peshawar to hunt for Osama bin Laden. Where had it gone so wrong?
“While the spy agencies had had a fraught relationship since the beginning of the Afghan war, the first major breach came in July 2008, when CIA officers in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to tell him that President Bush had signed off on a set of secret orders authorising a new strategy in the drone wars. No longer would the CIA give Pakistan advance warning before launching missiles from Predator or Reaper drones in the tribal areas. From that point on, the CIA officers told Kayani, the CIA’s killing campaign in Pakistan would be a unilateral war.
It was therefore more than a bit inconvenient that one of its undercover officers was sitting in a jail in Lahore facing a double murder charge. Pakistan’s Islamist parties organised street protests and threatened violent riots if Raymond Davis was not tried and hanged for his crimes. American diplomats in Lahore regularly visited Davis, but the Obama administration continued to stonewall Pakistan’s government about the nature of Davis’s work in the country...
“The furor over the Davis incident was quickly escalating, threatening to shut down most CIA operations in the country and derail the intelligence-gathering operation in Abbottabad. But the CIA stood firm and sent top officials to Islamabad, who told Ambassador Munter to stick to the strategy.
“By then, though, Munter had decided that the CIA’s strategy wasn’t working, and eventually even high-level officials in the agency began to realize that stonewalling the Pakistanis was only causing the ISI to dig in. After discussions among White House, State Department and CIA officials in Washington, Munter approached General Pasha, the ISI chief, and came clean. Davis was with the CIA, he said, and the United States needed to get him out of the country as quickly as possible. Pasha was fuming that Leon Panetta had lied to him, and he was going to make the Americans squirm by letting Davis sit in jail while he considered - on his own timetable - the best way to resolve the situation.
“Back in Washington, Ambassador Haqqani was summoned to CIA headquarters on Feb 21 and taken into Panetta’s spacious office overlooking the agency’s campus in Langley, Va. Sitting around a large conference table, Panetta asked Haqqani for his help securing Davis’s release. “‘If you’re going to send a Jason Bourne character to Pakistan, he should have the skills of a Jason Bourne to get away,’ Haqqani shot back, according to one person who attended the meeting.
“More than a week later, General Pasha came back to Ambassador Munter to discuss a new strategy. It was a solution based on an ancient tradition that would allow the matter to be settled outside the unpredictable court system. The issue had already been discussed among a number of Pakistani and American officials, including Ambassador Haqqani in Washington. The reckoning for Davis’s actions would come in the form of “blood money,” or diyat, a custom under Shariah law that compensates the families of victims for their dead relatives. The matter would be handled quietly, and Davis would be released from jail.
“Pasha ordered ISI operatives in Lahore to meet the families of the three men killed during the January episode and negotiate a settlement. Some of the relatives initially resisted, but the ISI negotiators were not about to let the talks collapse. After weeks of discussions, the parties agreed on a total of 200 million Pakistani rupees, approximately $2.34 million, to offer ‘forgiveness’ to the jailed CIA officer.
“The move had been choreographed to get Davis out of the country as quickly as possible. American officials, including Munter, were waiting for Davis at the airport, and some began to worry. Davis had, after all, already shot dead two men he believed were threatening him. If he thought he was being taken away to be killed, he might try to make an escape, even try to kill the ISI operatives inside the car. When the car arrived at the airport and pulled up to the plane ready to take Davis out of Pakistan, the CIA operative was in a daze. It appeared to the Americans waiting for him that Davis realised only then that he was safe.