Thursday, March 10, 2011

Raymond Davis Case A Symptom Of Deeper Pakistani-American Tensions

Foreign Affairs has a longish article today by C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University, Center for Peace and Security Studies, about the tangled relationship between the United Sates and the CIA, on one side, and Pakistan and the ISI on the other. She points out that the greatest consequence of the Raymond Davis affair has been to bring the deep structural problems in that relationship to a crisis point.

Read it here.

Some key points:

The United States and Pakistan are bound by mutual if asymmetric dependence, which generates considerable resentment among our peoples and governments alike. The Pakistan-U.S. relationship sometimes feels more like an arranged marriage than a love match: both stay in it because of larger considerations, and begrudgingly acknowledge or even outright deride the other's concerns and priorities.

This is not new: it has been the case since the partnership was renewed in the wake of the events of 9/11. The Raymond Davis affair -- in which a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistani men he said were trying to rob him in Lahore in late January, causing a national outcry from Pakistanis worried about armies of American spies ravaging the country -- has again brought these long-standing bilateral troubles to fore. The crisis has revealed the apprehensions, recriminations, and anger that are rife on both sides. But Raymond Davis is a symptom, not the cause, of deep tensions between America and Pakistan.

-- snip --

Both Pakistan and the United States are struggling to discern whether the other is a bothersome partner with important benefits or an enemy to be resisted and thwarted. What Islamabad and Rawalpindi, on the one hand, and Washington D.C. and Langley, on the other, decide will profoundly affect the security of both states. Should this troubled and suboptimal relationship end as it did in 1990, both countries will soon re-learn the unpleasant lessons of the past. (In 1990, the United States applied nuclear nonproliferation sanctions to Pakistan, precipitating a decade-long hiatus in bilateral ties.)

The Raymond Davis affair is symptomatic of the underlying malaise of this partnership and brings up the contrasting and conflicting strategic priorities of the United States and Pakistan. At the crux of the challenge is the simple fact that both Pakistan and the United States have divergent strategic interests. The art of sustaining this increasingly fraught geostrategic partnership amidst such stark differences is currently proving beyond the capabilities of the politicians, diplomats, and defense and intelligence leadership in both countries.

These strategic differences are most clear when it comes to Islamist militant groups, which American policymakers and citizens alike see as terrorist groups.

-- snip --

The United States, with heroic optimism, had hoped that Pakistan could be persuaded to permanently abandon using Islamist militants as tools of foreign policy through a combination of profitable inducements and rehabilitating Pakistan, coaxing it back into the comity of nations after it had been reviled as a nuclear proliferator, a supporter of terrorism, and a state teetering on the brink of failure.

However, Pakistan sees India as an existential threat in the same way that the United States sees al-Qaeda and its murderous minions as its most menacing nemeses. Pakistan relies upon the most feared and loathed of U.S. adversaries to manage its competition with India, while the United States wants to extinguish them.

Before the Raymond Davis affair publicly exposed these differences, both sides tried to paper over them as they sought to extract as many marginal benefits from the other as possible. Neither side directly confronted how one forges a strategic partnership when both parties have divergent strategic priorities. After the Davis shooting, obfuscating these differences is no longer possible.

-- snip --

Which brings us back to the Raymond Davis affair. The United States intelligence community understands full well the political fallout that it will endure should Lashkar-e-Taiba commit or attempt to commit a Mumbai-like attack in the United States. After such an attack, the United States Congress will spare no agency or its leadership, given that unlike al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack, the capabilities and intentions of Lashkar-e-Taiba have long been well known.

Pakistan's refusal to do anything to take down the organization appears to have motivated the United States to take the issue into its own hands: setting up a cell in an obscure part of Punjab's populous city of Lahore to track and perhaps eliminate associates of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Davis reportedly did security and surveillance activities for the case managers of that cell.

-- snip --

Whatever the truth may be about Davis's victims, there can be little doubt that, at its core, it is a showdown between the countries' intelligence agencies: the ISI and the CIA. Moreover, the tragedy has allowed the ISI to regain the initiative over the CIA in Pakistan.

-- snip --

At best, the two organizations can seek to reset their operational relationship to the status quo ex ante before the confrontation over Davis. But this rift was long in the making. Last year, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced in Pakistan that Lashkar-e-Taiba was "a very dangerous organization and a significant regional and global threat."

Such a pronouncement by a high-ranking U.S. official against Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan was unprecedented and should have signaled to Pakistan that Washington would be less indulgent of the ISI's savage acolytes. If the ISI failed to get that message, the swollen piles of delayed visa applications from Pakistanis with obscure job titles may have been a likely clue that something was brewing.

However, the ISI needs the CIA as much as the CIA needs the ISI. Pakistan is increasingly beset by militant groups and the state seems both insouciant about the nature of some of the threats to Pakistan and its citizenry and less than capable of dealing with those threats it has acknowledged and taken on.

Unless these two spy organizations can find a workable peace that acknowledges and begrudgingly accommodates the other's concerns, the security of both of our countries will be at risk. And if the recent past is any guide, Pakistanis will bear the brunt of the terrorist rampages.

Shakespeare called the murder of Christopher Marlowe by an Elizabethan state agent, which was another murky affair that got written off as self-defense, "a great reckoning in a little room."

And that's where we are with the Davis incident. A fairly small case of self-defense against a street robbery in Lahore (not to minimize the gravity of any use of lethal force, however, it is a small matter compared to international affairs) has brought about a great crisis in Pakistani-American relations.


Anonymous said...

Thanks TSB: I think I see what you have been trying to explain. (It's not easy to explain Pakistan!

Officials in private conversations said the Foreign Office’s Blue Book (protocol manual) was very clear that only the registration card issued to a diplomat after his/her registration with the Foreign Office confirmed anyone’s diplomatic status — something Davis was yet to get even though his request had been pending for over a year. (THE VIENNA CONV. DOESN'T REQUIRE THIS!) gwb

Anonymous said...


TSB said...

About those cards issued to diplomats, the USA does that, too, as a convenience to dips who may be stopped by police. Not required by the convention, as you note.

Funny story: A Saudi diplomatic was driving through North Carolina when he was pulled over by a State Trooper. The Saudi, who was a little arrogant, showed his dip card to the trooper and asked him "what does that say to you?" The trooper replied [insert a James Earl Jones voice here] "it says to me 'you a long way from home' boy." Some people need to be reminded of that from time to time.