By Selig Harrison
CIP Asia program
February 08, 2011
A pistol-packin' private American security contractor on a motorcycle kills two Pakistani civilians allegedly attempting to rob him. Another Pakistani is killed when a U.S. diplomat from the nearby consulate in Lahore, rushing to the rescue, goes the wrong way down a one-way road. This debacle is the new symbol of a hated U.S. presence that feeds the propaganda mills of the growing Islamist forces in Pakistan.
To be sure, the U.S. presence is constantly dramatized by the massive civilian casualties resulting from CIA drone attacks against suspected terrorist hideouts in the border tribal regions. But this is far away to most Pakistanis. The Lahore killings, in one of the nation's most populous shopping districts, have made "Yankee Go Home" the new battle cry of the heartland.
This is an explosive issue because many private contractors are not protected by diplomatic immunity and, unlike U.S. troops stationed in another country, are not subject to the Status of Forces Agreements — defining which country has jurisdiction over crimes — that would normally cover a case such as the Lahore shootings.
For the biggest Islamist group in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Raymond Davis case has been a propaganda bonanza. More than 20,000 people turned out for a Lahore rally to demand Davis' prosecution on murder charges.
By a somber coincidence, the shooting case has coincided with U.S. government disclosures that Islamabad has been stepping up its production of uranium and plutonium and now has a nuclear arsenal of more than 100 deployed weapons, exceeding the Indian nuclear arsenal. U.S. handwringing over this revelation is absurd. Where does Islamabad get the money for its nuclear arsenal? Directly from Washington in the form of the International Monetary Fund credits that keep Pakistan afloat, and from the annual subsidies of $1 billion given to the armed forces in the name of counterterrorism.
This nuclear capability is not in itself threatening to the U.S. or to India unless it falls into the hands of Islamists, including supposedly well-screened employees of the nuclear establishment who are potential "closet" Islamists. It is the psychological impact of the shooting on these "closet" Islamists inside the nuclear establishment that makes the Davis case so damaging.
Leave it to CIA, FBI
The U.S. does need covert action in Pakistan, but this should be carried out by the FBI and the CIA, not by private operatives. Indeed, the CIA and FBI played a key role in getting Pakistan to crack down on al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups by confronting Pakistani agencies with communications intercepts pinpointing their hideouts. This was the case when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader, was arrested in March 2003 after an FBI tip.
What the U.S. should do now is accept Pakistan's handling of the Davis case without interference and then phase out all private security operations to defuse Pakistani public opinion. The mini-drama over the Davis case might seem unimportant given the tumultuous events in Egypt, but it will have a direct impact on U.S. interests and could affect U.S. relations with Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the ruling army chief. He does not have to worry about an Egypt-style uprising because Pakistan is too ethnically fractured to organize a unified challenge to army rule. But Kayani would have to worry if the U.S. patrons who subsidize him become more of a political liability than an asset.
Ironically, anti-American passions in Pakistan divert popular discontent from focusing on the army dictatorship that not only controls the country militarily but also a business empire with assets of more than $38 billion, ranging from real estate and insurance companies to airlines.
The Davis case is useful to Kayani as a nationalist rallying cry, and he is likely to let the U.S. Embassy protest in vain while the Pakistani legal process grinds on.
Selig S. Harrison is director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy.
Copyright 2011 USA Today. Original article available here.