End of the affair

The Raymond Davis issue has finally been settled. The CIA contractor who was charged with double murder in Lahore was finally set free on Wednesday after the families of the two victims pardoned Davis and settled the issue by accepting blood money. Each family was paid Rs 100 million in compensation. Davis left the country the same day. The case was settled as per Pakistan’s Qisas and Diyat laws, which are ostensibly shariah laws. Qisas allows retaliation/retribution while Diyat allows the heirs of the victim to grant pardon to the accused in return for blood money. It is ironic to see that the same Islamists and right-wing forces who wanted Davis hanged are now twisting themselves in knots over the court’s verdict that was as per the same shariah laws they have been advocating for decades. Like other shariah laws in Pakistan’s statute books, human rights groups and progressives have been critical of the Qisas and Diyat laws as they are inherently pro-rich and anti-poor. These laws have been misused for a long time, especially when it comes to honour killings. Those who are rich and powerful literally get away with murder because of these laws. The Right has opposed repealing of these laws just like they opposed it in the case of the blasphemy laws. Since they cannot object to the judgement in the Raymond Davis case because of the Islamic element in it, they have now resorted to their tired old mantra of ‘ghairat’ (honour).

The whole ghairat brigade was up in arms over the release of Davis and took to the streets to protest on Wednesday and Thursday. Apart from the usual suspects, i.e. the religious parties, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) were at the forefront of these rallies. More protest rallies will be taken out today (Friday). The protesting parties are claiming that the federal government, the Punjab government and the military have sold Pakistan’s sovereignty to the Americans for some dollars. There are reports that the families of the victims were coerced into signing the pardon. If this is true, the courts must look into this angle. A petition to this effect has already been filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC).

There is no denying that backdoor diplomacy was used to resolve this complicated matter by US and Pakistani officials. Both countries were keen to get out of this mess as it had complicated their relationship to an alarming extent. Senator Kerry’s trip was a reflection of these manoeuvres. Reportedly, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani and director general ISI Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha played a role in the settlement. While the details of monetary compensation to the victims’ families were made public, everyone is wondering about the pound of flesh extracted by the military and the ISI from the affair.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has, understandably, denied that any money was paid by the US government to secure Davis’s release but she has assured that “a Department of Justice investigation has begun into what happened in Lahore”. It is yet to be seen whether Davis will be actually tried in the US for the double murder, but the strained Pak-US relations appear to be now back on track. Those who wanted Davis brought to justice made it a question of national security, honour and prestige, but the problem is that all these people had also vowed to abide by the court’s verdict. Most of all, their patrons in the GHQ were deeply involved in the settlement issue. Thus it is easier for them to blame the government instead of those who actually brought about the settlement. Most people forget that Pakistan is a client state and the stakes for both the US and Pakistan were very high. They both badly needed to get out of this impasse. Pakistan cannot function without military and financial aid from the US. As long as we are financially dependent on other countries, crying hoarse over our lost sovereignty sounds like a plaint in the dark.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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