The ongoing case of Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor facing murder charges in Lahore for the execution-style slaying of two apparent agents of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, is apparently leading to a roll-back of America’s espionage and Special Operations activities in Pakistan.
A few days ago, Pakistan’s Interior Department, which is reportedly conducting a careful review of the hundreds of private contractors who flooded into Pakistan over the last two years, many with “diplomatic passports,” and many others, like Davis, linked to shady “security” firms, arrested an American security contractor named Aaron DeHaven, a Virginia native who claims to work for a company called Catalyst Services LLC.
The Catalyst Services LLC website describes the company, with offices in Afghanistan, Dubai, the US and Pakistan, as having experience in “logistics, operations, security and finance,” and as having a staff led by “individuals who have been involved in some of the most significant events of the last 20 years,” including “the break-up of the Soviet Union, the US effort in Somalia, and the Global War on Terror.”
DeHaven is being held on a 14-day remand, charged with overstaying his visa and with living in an unauthorized area.
Meanwhile, the English-language Express Tribune in Pakistan reports that according to ISI sources, 30 “suspected US operatives” in Pakistan have “suspended” their operations in the country, while 12 have fled the country.
The paper quotes the Pakistan Foreign Office as saying that 851 Americans claiming diplomatic immunity are currently in Pakistan, 297 of whom are “not working in any diplomatic capacity.” The paper says that the country’s Interior Department claims that 414 of the total are “non-diplomats.” The majority of these American operatives, the paper says, are located in Islamabad (where the US is building a huge fortress-like embassy reminiscent of the one in Baghdad), with the others in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. Most are suspected of being involved in covert missions that report to the US Joint Special Operations Command, with many suspected of being active-duty Special Forces personnel from the Army’s Delta Force. (The website of the JSOC says its responsibility is “synchronizing Department of Defense plans against global terrorist networks and, as directed, conducting global operations.”)
As I reported earlier, both Pakistani and Indian news organizations are claiming, based upon intelligence sources, that Davis was involved in not just intelligence work, but in orchestrating terrorist activity by both the Pakistani Taliban and the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has been linked to both the assassination of Benezir Bhutto and the capture and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Multiple calls to members of both groups were found by police on some of the cell phones found on Davis and in his car when he was arrested in Lahore.
It is unclear how far the blow-up in Pakistan over the exposure of America’s role in stirring up unrest in that country will go. Clearly, the ISI and the Pakistani military have long had their own complicated relationship with the Pakistani Taliban, and much of the current anger in both the ISI and the military has to do with the US being found to be working behind their backs, including in its contact with those groups.
But things have been complicated too by mounting public outrage over Davis’s brazen slaughter of the two Pakistanis, who reportedly were tailing him because of concerns about the nature of his activities, and who reportedly were both shot in the back. This public outrage has been further stoked by both a subsequent suicide by the 18-year-old bride of one of the victims, and by the death of an innocent bystander mowed down by a second vehicle carrying several more US contractors which sped to Davis in response to his call for assistance following the shooting. That vehicle, after running down the bystander, raced to sanctuary at the US Consulate. The men in the car, never identified by the consulate, were spirited out of the country by the US so they could avoid arrest.
Further complicating matters for the US, the province of Punjab, of which Lahore is the capital, is run by the opposition party, headed by former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif, who still has presidential aspirations, has no incentive at all to make things easy for the country’s ruling party by letting Davis go. Indeed, with public opinion running almost 100% in favor of trying Davis for murder, Sharif can only gain by insisting that the court system have the final say.
Pakistan’s central government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, clearly wants to put the Davis incident behind it by having him declared to have diplomatic immunity. Foreign Officials allege that Zardari pressured the Foreign Office in early February to backdate a letter identifying Davis as being a “member of staff” of the US Embassy in Islamabad, which would have afforded him such immunity from prosecution. But the country’s foreign minister at that time, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, reportedly refused, saying, “On the basis of the official record and the advice given to me by the technocrats and experts of the Foreign Office, I could not certify him (Raymond Davis) as a diplomat. The kind of by blanket immunity Washington is pressing for Davis, is not endorsed by the official record of the Foreign Ministry.”
He has subsequently been ousted and replaced by Zardari.
The reality is that the US, which as required, on Jan. 25 submitted to the Foreign Office its annual list of those employees of the US Embassy whom it classified as “diplomats” warranting diplomatic immunity. The list had 48 names on it, and did not include Davis. Only after Davis’s Jan. 27 shooting of the two Pakistani motorcyclists, on Jan. 28, did the US submit a “revised” list, to which Davis’s name had been appended.
The US initially said Davis was an employee of the Lahore Consulate, and Davis himself told arresting police officers that he was a contractor working out of the Lahore Consulate, a role that would not afford him any diplomatic immunity, as consular workers, under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations only receive immunity for their “official duties,” and in any case lose even that limited immunity in the case of “grave crimes.”
His current legal problems, and the public demand that he be tried (and then hanged) for the killings, has definitely led to a reduction in US undercover operations in Pakistan, and to a pullback of at least some of the Special Forces personnel operating there. It will take considerable finesse for the US and the Zardari government to put the the relationship back together–if the Pakistani military and the ISI even want to restore it–finesse that the US has not been very good at displaying.
So far, in fact, the US response to Davis’s arrest has been to bluntly and publicly threaten Pakistan with a loss of foreign and military aid–a threat that seems empty given the American need for Pakistani assistance in supplying its military in Afghanistan, and its need for at lease covert permission to continue sending Predator and Reaper drones across the border to attack Taliban suspects in the tribal border areas. US bluster, and some clumsy efforts to forge records that would purport to show Davis had diplomatic immunity–all widely exposed in the Pakistani media–have only served to further stoke public outrage.
Meanwhile, local authorities in Lahore at the prison where Davis is being held, are so worried that the US may try to have him killed to prevent him from spilling the beans about his activities–for example explaining why the camera he was carrying held photographs of Pakistani military installations as well as of mosques, madrassas and other schools–that they have reportedly posted special guards (unarmed as an added precaution) around his cell, and have been monitoring his food. Davis was reportedly even denied a box of chocolates sent by the US Consulate in Lahore, for fear it might have been laced with poison.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding editor of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-backed online alternative newspaper