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Raymond Davis' acquittal: Many questions remain unanswered

A deal between Washington and Islamabad paves the way for Davis to return to the US bringing an end to a seven-week diplomatic standoff. Head of DW's South Asia Department, Grahame Lucas, comments.

Pakistani security officials escort Raymond Allen Davis, to a local court in Lahore

Pakistani security officials escort Raymond Allen Davis, to a local court in Lahore

In a surprising turn of events CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who had been held in a Lahore jail since January 27 on suspicion of murder, has been acquitted and flown out of Pakistan to an American base in Afghanistan. Just hours before his release Davis had been officially charged in court with the murder of two Pakistani citizens during a shoot-out in a street in Lahore. Davis claimed that he was the victim of an attempted robbery and acted in self-defense. For its part the US had claimed he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. The killings have enraged public opinion in Pakistan, which against the background of unilateral US drone strikes against Taliban fighters in the areas bordering Afghanistan regards this as another example of US interference in its internal affairs. The failure of Pakistan to release Davis quickly led to tensions at the highest levels in relations between Islamabad and Washington. Analysis by Grahame Lucas:

There is huge relief in government circles in Washington that the Raymond Davis case has been resolved. With Davis now on his way back to the US, American officials in both the State Department and the CIA have been quick to declare that both countries can now return to “business as usual” in their efforts to combat Islamist terrorism. John Kerry, a senior Democrat and a key player in US foreign policy making, underlined US regret over the deaths of the two Pakistanis adding that Davis' release was a key step towards restoring confidence in bilateral ties.

Nonetheless many questions relating to the Davis case remain unanswered. What was a former US special services operative on a CIA contract doing in Pakistan in the first place? US officials initially tried to explain him away as a security official at a US facility in Pakistan. But a security official does not shoot to kill when two Pakistanis approach his car on a motorcycle. Moreover, the sophisticated weaponry Davis had in his possession at the time of his arrest suggests a different and more sinister assignment. Was Davis involved in a clandestine operation against Islamist terror groups in Pakistan? The CIA denies this, but how much is such a denial worth in the murky world of clandestine operations where there is no such thing as trust, not even between supposed allies in the war on terror. Just recently the chair of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, reportedly accused ISI, Pakistan's all-powerful intelligence agency, of “walking both sides of the street” and not dealing effectively with Islamist terror groups in Pakistan. This lends credence to the theory that the two men Davis shot so clinically may have been intelligence agents put on his tail by ISI. After all, it would have been naturally for ISI to want to know what Davis was doing in Punjab, a hotbed of Islamist extremism.

But there are questions to be asked of the Islamabad government too. The deal done on Wednesday that secured Davis his freedom and the way it was done says much about the present situation in Pakistan. Clearly the Islamabad government could have declared Davis to be immune from prosecution immediately after the shooting by recognizing his claim to diplomatic immunity. But it did not despite the fact that it was obvious from the outset that by allowing Davis to be put on trial in Lahore they would trigger a major crisis with Washington. Islamabad's willingness to risk this bilateral crisis was all the more remarkable given the huge dependence of the country on US military and financial aid.

The explanation lies in the rise in extremist Islamist sentiment in Pakistan during the last three years. After the assassination of two top politicians opposed to the blasphemy law in recent weeks, there was a shameful outpouring of public support for the killers. In the face of this alarming development Islamabad was not willing to take a political decision in the Davis case and risk provoking even more extremist Islamist sentiment. Not least because of strident calls by militants for the death penalty for Davis. This could not be described in any way as strong political leadership on the part of Islamabad.

The fact that Islamabad was looking for a way out of this predicament that would be acceptable to militant Islamist opinion became obvious in mid-February when the Prime Minister floated the idea of resolving the case under Sharia law. However, it was equally obvious that this would not be acceptable to the US as it would involve a public admission of guilt on Washington's part.

What emerged on Wednesday was thus a classic diplomatic deal to save the face of the US Administration and to avert an Islamist backlash in Pakistan: Islamabad pressured the families of the dead men to accept compensation from the US totaling 4.35 million dollars under Sharia law. Some family members apparently also received visas to US. For their part, the families officially forgave Davis who was convicted only on the lesser charge of illegal possession of firearms. Davis was then put on a plane to an American base in Afghanistan. As all of this took place behind closed doors, it could be and was denied the US Administration.

Most of the questions the Davis case has thrown up would normally never be answered because the two sides have no interest in doing so. But in US politics highly controversial events inevitably trigger investigations especially if competing government institutions like the State Department and the CIA are involved. On Wednesday the US ambassador to Pakistan confirmed that the US Justice Ministry would investigate the incident in Lahore. The CIA may yet have to provide the answers to some very difficult questions. Editor: Sarah Berning

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