Behind the scenes, a high-level government source familiar with the discussions said that Kerry crafted the trip and his message on his own. President Obama asked Kerry to travel to Pakistan to deal with the Davis crisis, which has put elements of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on hold. But after conferring with senior foreign policy aides and Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani over the weekend, Kerry decided to travel to Pakistan for a "relationship saving" mission, not a "rescue" mission, the source explained.
For example, Kerry decided to travel first to Lahore, rather than Islamabad where the Pakistani government resides. Although he will meet with Pakistani government officials at the highest levels, including President Asif Ali Zardari, he wanted first to deliver a message to the Pakistani people directly in the town where the incident took place and tell them directly that the United States wasn't only interested in Davis's release.
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The reaction in Pakistan to Kerry's opening press conference among officials supportive of the relationship was overwhelmingly positive.
"He said all the right things on Pakistan," a senior Pakistani official told The Cable. "John Kerry is recognized by most Pakistanis as a friend of Pakistan. By sending him, President Obama has really helped what could have become a bigger diplomatic problem down the road."
The trip comes after a severe downturn in U.S.-Pakistan relations following Davis's arrest. Davis, a former Special Forces operative who speaks fluent Urdu, was being tailed by two suspected agents of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization on motorcycles [TSB note: the ISI connection is completely specious, and the two weren't "tailing" Davis, rather, they had parked their motorcycle in front of his car to block it at a traffic light] when he shot and killed them through the windshield of his car. Davis claimed they brandished guns. A third Pakistani man was run over and killed by a U.S. embassy vehicle accidentally as it rushed to the scene.
[A Pakistani government] source told The Cable that the region around Lahore is run by the brother of Nawaz Sharif, the top political opponent to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and the authorities there might have sought to take political advantage of the situation. By claiming that Davis had committed murder and pushing the story out to Pakistani media, Zardari was placed in the unenviable position of having to choose whether to defend an American murderer or risk the wrath of his countrymen.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi happened to be out of the country at the time. A Foreign Ministry official named Salman Bashir was left to make the decide whether to grant Davis immunity right away but decided it would be politically prudent to make no decision at all and let Davis remain in jail, the Pakistani government source said. Unclear messages from the U.S. side exacerbated the confusion.
"The political tragedy was that it was almost three days before the U.S. government claimed immunity, by which time the tensions had already been inflamed," the source explained.
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The most probable outcome will be a face-saving deal whereby the Pakistani courts agree to release Davis, the U.S. government promises to investigate the incident as a criminal matter, and the U.S. pays some compensation to the families of the Pakistani victims.
In the end, the incident illustrates that the U.S. and Pakistani governments still have a ways to go in terms of working together to build stability into the relationship.
Either way, our Pakistani source said that there is plenty of blame to go around.
"[Davis] was wrong in carrying the gun. He was wrong in shooting the people. There definitely was some craziness in what he was doing," the source said. "But it's a clear and gross violation of international law to hold a diplomat."
It's nice to hear that agreement with our position regarding international law. As for the source's other statements, well, opinions differ.
Davis was wrong in carrying the gun - Maybe, maybe not. But when he found himself confronted by two armed robbers, it was lucky for him that he had his own pistol.
He was wrong in shooting the people - I wouldn't say so. More like the two armed dacoits were wrong in their choice of victim.
There definitely was some craziness in what he was doing - OK. Davis would probably agree with that one.