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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Heavy Cost of a Shady Deal

By Syed Talat Hussain
EVEN the most passionate among those who wanted Raymond Davis’s head knew in their heart of hearts that the CIA contractor would eventually be set free.
While speculation abounds about the way in which he walked out of his prison cell, the general opinion seems to be focused on the possibility of a deal with the families of the victims.
So the March 16 climax, after many weeks of a tension-filled drama, unfolded predictably: the families got the money, the court dropped the murder charges, and, for the sake of appearances, gave Davis an already-served prison sentence plus a marginal fine for the possession of illegal weapons.

In no time Raymond Davis was airborne and on his way back to where he came from, leaving behind a relieved Pakistani government and a few thousand protesters, who, at the behest of their political leaders, continue to cry over a settled matter.
Yet even though inevitable, the denouement has rocked the country, shocked and angered the nation and cemented the unflattering image of Pakistan as a satellite state, whose institutional leadership constitutes one long queue of underlings. The heavy cost of Raymond Davis’s acquittal is evenly spread across the spectrum of Pakistan’s policymakers. Politicians, judges, generals are all reeling under a tsunami of shame.
Take the PML-N. It is bearing the brunt because it has been playing on both ends of the wicket. When Raymond Davis was caught and jailed, the local leadership led by the law minister, Rana Sanaullah, primed their pumps of bravado. Every reference they made to Raymond Davis contained a reminder of how bravely they had taken a stand on the issue against US pressure.
Both Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif inflated this image of defiance through their utterances, giving the impression that justice would be dispensed and the CIA agent would pay for his crimes. Even when the matter was in court, the PML-N kept playing to the public gallery.
This public posturing, while popular at the time, was completely out of sync with the closet effort of the party leadership to convince the families to cut a deal. This was being done at the behest of the Saudi government that Washington had pressed into usual service.
The Punjab government was also open to suggestions from the army that an enabling environment should be created for the deal. That was the reason that the PML-N discouraged all protests against Raymond Davis and kept its workers away from this controversy.
The duality of this stand is what caught up with the party. Upon Davis’s release, public anger was bound to turn on the PML-N whose claims of not knowing anything about the deal sounded hollow and ridiculous. Adding to the comedy of errors was the hasty departure of the chief minister of Punjab to London, ostensibly to look after his ailing brother.
The coincidence of Davis’s release and the Sharifs’ absence from Lahore was too well-timed to be real. Moreover, the hectic arrangements made to get the culprit out could not have happened without the knowledge and the approval of the Punjab government. The PML-N has been put in the pillory because it was too eager to milk the Davis case for its short-term political gains.
The PPP, too, has been hit hard by Raymond Davis’s release. Already low on winning public trust, and infamously vulnerable to Washington’s pressure tactics, President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the entire cabinet stand in the dock.
The PPP has been able to deflect some criticism towards the judiciary, but it is tantamount to insulting the collective intelligence of the people to suggest that it had nothing to do with the indecent haste with which Davis was flown out.
Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said on record that many of his cabinet colleagues wanted Davis to be released immediately without any proceedings being initiated against him.
Moreover, long before the party took the stand that it would abide by the judicial verdict, its former spokesperson Fauzia Wahab had stated publicly that the CIA agent enjoyed immunity. So now when the party leadership shrugs its shoulders and directs the blame of the deal towards the judiciary it come across as clueless or connivers.
Among the worst sufferers in terms of public esteem are, however, the judiciary, the army and the ISI. It is obvious that even the blood money deal could only have been endorsed after Davis had been declared guilty through due process.
Yet all procedural and substantive niceties were set aside, and according to a well-thought out plan the jailbird was allowed to fly. The court acted as a pawn rather than a platform of justice. Since then, the public demand has not been met that the Supreme Court chief justice should inquire into the conduct of the judges involved in facilitating Raymond Davis’s release.
But the image of the army and the ISI has taken the worst battering. It is an open secret that both these institutions were the impresario of the stage. In the public mind, they acted as a conduit for Raymond Davis. The latter attempt to portray that Pakistan has got guarantees from the US about future actions on its soil by the CIA has been trashed by the drone attack in North Waziristan.
US officials have been consistent in filtering news out that they have not negotiated any terms related to their future operations for Davis’s release. This suggests that it would be business as usual for the US secret services in Pakistan.
For those whose task it is to defend the internal and external frontiers of the country and keep public sentiment on their side, Davis’s departure has created an unhappy situation where they are perceived as having failed to accomplish the three tasks. This is the real cost of a shady deal.

The writer is a senior journalist at DawnNews.

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