The fallout from the Davis affair
Raymond Davis’s murder trial has begun, while the US continues to press for his repatriation, though now much more circumspectly. Whatever the outcome of these proceedings, this affair has already had a significant impact on the US-Pakistan relationship, and may yet do so also on Pakistan’s internal situation.
I had concluded my previous thread on the subject by advancing the hypothesis (triggered by a couple of useful pointers from TTG and MTJY) that Davis was working for a JSOC Special Mission Unit whose task related to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. This hypothesis has acquired some legs if one considers the effects this event has had, and is having. All of them were set off when it caused the balance of power in the Pakistani establishment to tilt away from the US-friendly faction towards the Pakistan-friendly one (the bulk of this establishment is, of course, just self-friendly).
I use ‘US-friendly’ as a polite term for those persons who act in conformity with US interests without worrying too much whether these actions are also in Pakistan’s interests. These persons have been persuaded to adopt this ‘friendly’ stance through the usual inducements, whether in cash or kind. It is conceivable that, in the case of some persons occupying sensitive positions (such as in the ISI), it may, regrettably, have been necessary to use some of the less savoury options available to intelligence services. At the top of the US-friendly faction is, of course, President Zardari, followed closely by his interior minister, Rahman Malik. This faction obviously has some representation in the upper reaches of the ISI.
The critical factor in this shift of the balance of power was Gen Kayani, the army chief, and the most powerful figure in the establishment. The chain-smoking, golf-playing general is, without any doubt, Pakistan-friendly, but he is also a very cautious person, loath to rock the boat unless really necessary. It was his passivity that enabled the US-friendly faction to prevail, and allowed Davis and his companions to establish themselves and carry on doing whatever they were up to (undoubtedly causing much grief and anguish among many ISI stalwarts, without them being able to do much about it).
The JSOC influx into Pakistan occurred in two phases. The first was the ‘official’ one, in which a couple of hundred personnel came in as trainers for the Pakistan army’s SSG (its special forces) and the paramilitary Frontier Corps involved in operations against insurgents in the tribal areas. It appears they also acted as advisers, and sometimes participated in operations. A hidden part of this phase, apparently with official approval (this was in Musharraf’s time), was the insertion of Blackwater operatives (presumably on contract to JSOC), working for a Pakistani company, to carry out counter-terrorism operations (plus, of course, anything else they may have been tasked to do by JSOC). This phase was described by Jeremy Scahill in a recent article.
The second phase of the JSOC influx occurred after the US decided to undertake a large, long-term aid program for Pakistan. The US applied for visas for a large number of staff and support personnel to manage the program. The ISI insisted on security vetting all visa applicants, which held up the process. The US exerted huge pressure on the government, warning that the aid program would be adversely affected. The government, in turn, pressured the military to back off, until, finally, Kayani (tied up in the campaigns against insurgents in the tribal areas) agreed. The ambassador in Washington (who represents Zardari rather than Pakistan, and is as US-friendly as it is possible to be without openly displaying one’s US passport) opened the spigot, and visas flowed out like water. The Interior Ministry currently lists over 400 ‘special Americans’ (as it cutely calls them), but there may well be more. As this media report indicates, they are all believed to be JSOC personnel or contractors.
The ‘official’ version of what they are doing is gathering counter-terrorism intelligence. But the ISI rank and file knew otherwise; they just couldn’t get the dominant US-friendly brass to do anything about it. Until Raymond Davis gunned down a couple of ISI auxiliaries on the streets of Lahore, and the US publicly came down like a ton of bricks to get him freed pronto, now, yesterday. That got Gen Kayani’s attention. And when he was told what Davis and his colleagues were really up to, that got action. For Kayani and the military establishment, the country’s nukes are the definitive red line.
Kayani’s stance, and the widespread public anger at the killings, caused the US-friendly faction to go to ground. The US-friendly foreign minister (his son had been one of Sen Kerry’s congressional aides until the media found out) suddenly discovered religion, and refused to certify Davis’s diplomatic immunity, losing his job for his pains. The ISI demanded the US provide a listing of all its agents in Pakistan. Several of them hurriedly left the country; one of them was arrested for an expired visa. On 23 February, Kayani held a meeting in Muscat, Oman, with Mullen, Mattis, Petraeus, and, significantly, Olson, chief of the Special Operations Command (under which JSOC works). My guess is that Kayani called the meeting to demand that JSOC back off the Pakistani nukes. After it, a US official said the discussion was “very candid”.
If Kayani and his fellow generals are really upset about the way in which this US-friendly government has facilitated JSOC’s activities inside Pakistan, and what it might do in the future, they may decide to effect a change. If that were to happen, the most likely scenario (because it would be the least messy) would be an internal party coup in which the current prime minister would be voted out and replaced, most likely by the born-again former foreign minister. If that can’t be engineered, then there are other messier ways of achieving the same goal; it would depend on how far Kayani decided to go.
We don’t know what caused Raymond Davis to pull out his Glock (or was it the Beretta?) and empty its magazine, but his act certainly seems to have started a chain of events that may well have significant consequences, changing many more lives than just those of the poor sods whom he gunned down, and their families.
(Note: As I have said before, I do not have any ‘sources’. This piece, like other previous ones, consists entirely of deductions and speculation based on the public record).
© FB Ali