On the 27th of January, while driving through Mozang (an extremely crowded section of Lahore city) in a rented Honda Civic, American citizen Raymond Davis shot two men who were riding a motorcycle. Soon afterwards, another vehicle that was racing to (presumably) rescue Mr. Davis, ran over a third person and killed him too. These seem to be the only undisputed facts about the event. Shortly afterwards, Pakistani TV channels showed one of the dead men with a revolver and an ammunition belt around his waist. It was also claimed that the two men were carrying several mobile phones and possible some other stolen items. But soon after the event, the story began to change. From a robbery attempt gone bad, it morphed into Mr. Davis assassinating two young men without obvious cause. Raymond’s own status was immediately in dispute and within a few days the network of websites that is thought to represent the views of Pakistan’s deep state were stating that Davis was a CIA agent, he was being tailed by the ISI and he had shot two ISI agents. They also claimed Davis was working with the “bad Taliban” to do bad things in Pakistan, while trying to spy on the “good Taliban” and other virtuous jihadist organizations like the LET.
Since then, the US has itself admitted that he worked for the CIA and relatively sober Pakistani military analysts have hinted that the two victims were ISI agents who had been tailing Raymond for over an hour.
Much is being made of these revelations, but to an outsider it seems obvious that his status cannot have been a surprise to the ISI. You cannot have 5 CIA agents renting houses in Lahore and tailing people without the ISI knowing about it. Nor would it be a huge surprise to learn that a CIA agent was there under diplomatic cover; all countries get diplomatic status for their spies and if the host country does not like a spy, they can always kick him out by declaring him persona non grata. The legal question revolves around whether he formally had diplomatic status or not, whether diplomatic status qualifies him for immunity once a truly serious crime has been committed, and what exactly happened in Mozang (was it an attempted robbery and therefore self-defense, or did he shoot two ISI agents, with or without provocation, or were they terrorists, or something else?).
But the strategic question is more interesting: why, after the event, did psyops organs of the deep state jump all over the case? Clearly, if he shot two robbers and the ISI did not want a fuss, they could have used their vast media resources to project exactly that story and he would have been out of there in no time. If he shot two of their men then the issue becomes more complicated, but at a strategic level, it remains Pakistan’s choice: whether to make it a huge issue or settle it quietly. Time will tell if the quiet option was dropped because of American ham-handedness and arrogance, or the ISI opting for confrontation. But it was clearly dropped and a very public confrontation was encouraged, with all the usual suspects in action. But to what end? Does the ISI want a divorce or is this a lover’s quarrel, to be made up after the CIA coughs up flowers and some new concessions? It seems the smart money is on the latter scenario (making up after a tiff, rather than an actual divorce). Pakistani friends whose opinion I respect insist that Pakistan has the US over a barrel right now and will get what it wants, then quietly let Raymond go, or arrange some other face-saving deal for all concerned. But there is always the chance that carefully calculated operations can go awry. Even if the ISI only planned to push the CIA a little and get them to tone down some overly intrusive operations and get some concessions on India-specific Jihadis and other issues dear to their little hearts, the change in public and official opinion on both sides may not be turned on and off like a tap. They may have wanted to push to the edge and step back at the last moment (a skill at which they consider themselves great masters) but there is such a thing as “too much success”. One hopes they know what they are doing, but people who are old enough to remember 1971 and Kargil may be excused for feeling a little trepidation; this crowd has been known to overestimate their skills. The irony is, Kiyani sahib is probably the smartest man to ever hold that exalted position at the head of GHQ (and is an amazing genius compared to the last man in that position) and it will be sad to see things go south on his watch. And even if the US has no option but to cooperate, the extremism and anti-Americanism that has been fanned within Pakistan may one day come back to haunt them.
When I wrote about “Pakistan predictions” last month, I got some flak from liberal friends for being insensitive and politically incorrect (too negative about certain third world groups, not enough condemnation of American imperialism). I promised to say more about this topic in this month’s piece. First of all, it is true that I assume that people in Pakistan have plans and ambitions of their own. I also assumes that the US is not some kind of God-like power. These assumptions run contrary to the kind of Eurocentrism that is commonplace in Western liberal academia and that assigns agency only to White people, while regarding Brown people as almost childlike victims of their superiors in the West (I am obviously being deliberately provocative in my choice of words…these are not the words which the liberals themselves would ever use about their beliefs, but I do feel that while these words are crude and inflammatory, I think they are still an accurate depiction of a certain mindset). But I think I will stick by those assumptions because I regard the fashionable Western (and Westernized) liberal view as being unconsciously racist and do not find their exalted opinion of imperialist prowess to be credible.
In addition there are also some specific delusions about Afghanistan and Pakistan that I think need to be confronted in this matter and I will try to explain my position about them a little.
1. The Imran Khan delusion: this delusion holds that all was well in Afghanistan and Pakistan until America invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and upset the peaceful status quo. According to this version of events the US and other powers got General Zia to arm and train Jihadist terrorists to fight the Russians in Afghanistan (no Pakistani interest in this scheme is implied) and then left Afghanistan without building schools and hospitals in 1992. Then things sort of coasted along more or less peacefully for the next 12 years, until 9-11 (which is frequently believed to be a Mossad-CIA operation) happened. After this event, the US came and said “we want our old friends dead now”. Since then, Pakistan has been dutifully trying to kill these maniacs and the current Pakistani government in particular is trying its best to kill them and suffering vastly in the process, so it is unfair of the US to ask us to “do more”. I think this version of events misses some crucial points.
First of all, the jihadi project was indeed a CIA project, but it was also our project from the very beginning. America wanted Russia humbled in Afghanistan, but we wanted that humbling to be done by Islamist jihadis under our control. Our leaders (specifically Zia and Akhtar Abdul Rahman) also had the “vision” to see in this an opportunity to settle scores with India and plant the seeds of a wider area of influence in Central Asia, and so on and so forth. Second, after the CIA finished its dirty business in Afghanistan and left, “we” multiplied the jihadi infrastructure by 10. We redirected it to Kashmir and spread it throughout Pakistan. Of course the Westoxicated middle class had very little notion of what was going on. These were serious things, handled by serious people in the security establishment, not shared with the rest of the country except on a “need to know basis”. But it is disingenuous to think the multiplication of jihadi militias throughout the nineties was also America’s fault (though the US did ignore it, perhaps because they thought it improves their leverage over India, perhaps because they were busy with other things). Then, after 9-11 (which was not an inside job in my view, primarily because I see no reason to think that the US secret agencies are capable of such vast and successful deception), “we” (the Pakistani security services) protected good jihadis and failed to go after their indoctrination and finance pipelines because “we” wanted the infrastructure kept alive for future use against India.
Of course, even if the rickety state apparatus has decided to go all out against the jihadis, the process will be neither pretty nor quick. There is no simple way to put the genie back into the bottle. The half million who are already trained (Arif Jamal’s figure in Shadow War) will have to be dealt with. Luckily, some have already moved on to other occupations and others have become simple criminals, busy with kidnapping and armed robbery. But the more committed ones will have to be disarmed and jailed or killed and they are not easy targets. In fact, those with a strong stomach can watch this video to see that even the ex-Godfathers of the Taliban are not safe from their wrath. These are the Kharijis of today; they are not amenable to reason. In any case, in order to stop them the state will have to shut down their financing, crack down on their above-ground supporters and win the battle of ideas in the mind of the public (and improve its functioning in general and make it less unjust, deficiencies it shares with India’s rickety state). None of that can succeed if the state’s own paid propagandists are busy spreading confusion and propaganda that undermines this effort. It will also not succeed if the army is simultaneously trying to protect assets it hopes to use against India (because the “good jihadis” don’t seem to understand the distinction and frequently help out the “bad jihadis”). It will also not succeed if Saudi and Gulf financing is not being intercepted. In short, it will not stop unless the India-centric, zero-sum national security mindset is changed because that mindset leads to these people and their mentors being protected. For proof of this, you need to look no further than Musharraf’s moronic interviews with Der Spiegel and the Atlantic council . In fact Put those interviews together with Admiral Fasih Bokhari’s article and you can see that the overgrown adolescents who are America’s great white hope in Pakistan are perhaps more dangerous and deluded than the ball-scratching, nose-dripping, corrupt gangsters in the civilian political parties. But, military men being military men, no Pentagon general seems to be able to resist the sight of a man in a finely starched uniform, especially if he also likes whisky (the one sure sign of “enlightened moderation”, if the diplomatic reports of the US embassy from the last 50 years are any guide).
I am aware that some people think that the primary reason this effort is not being conducted effectively is not because of any real or imagined Indian threat but because the existence of this insurgency is in fact our ticket to more aid and assistance. I personally think this is too conspiracy-minded, but who knows. Another factor to consider is the role of the Military-Mullah alliance in domestic Pakistani politics. i.e. the fact that the army uses the mullahs as muscle power against secularists, mainstream politicians and “pro-Indian” elements. And of course, some demented ideologically committed junior officers may find the jihadists useful against heretics like Shias and Ismailis and other “undesirables”. The last category (I hope) is confined to the lower ranks. The senior officers are not so much jihadist, as they are limited in their imagination and hooked on India-hatred and US aid, and not necessarily in that order.
2. The romantic Left delusion. This is the belief that Pakistan’s corrupt elite deserves to be overthrown by the lower classes and the Taliban are (an unfortunate but expected) instrument of this necessary revolution. Actually the first part of this delusion is not a delusion. The Pakistani elite is not just corrupt, they have been practically suicidal. Where other corrupt third world elites have mismanaged the state, provided poor governance, oppressed the poor and failed to evolve a stable political system, Pakistan’s elite (which in this case means the army high command and their supporters) have done something no other third world elite has managed. They have armed, trained and encouraged their own executioners in the course of a demented scheme of trying to wrest Kashmir from India while laying the foundation for a mini-empire in central Asia. But the second part of this delusion is the real delusion here. The Pakistani Taliban is not the Bolshevik party; in fact, they are not even the Iranian Mullahs. They were created by the army as an outgrowth of the American-sponsored Afghan jihad. Their leadership is derived from the Madrasahs and think tanks sponsored by Saudi money and inspired by Syed Qutb and the most virulent Wahhabi and Salafist clerics in the world. They were guided by the jihadist faction of GHQ, men inspired by Maudoodi and his children, not by Marx or even Ali Shariati. They have absolutely no workable social or economic plan. If they do overthrow the elite, what follows will be a nightmare of historic proportions. If the whole thing does not dissolve into anarchy, it will be stabilized by an army coup. After purging liberals and hanging Veena Malik, the dictatorship of the mullahtariat will degenerate into an Islamic version of Myanmar, not revolutionary Iran or Castro’s Cuba.
So, coming back to our original topic: does the Raymond Davis affair reflect a lover’s spat or an impending divorce? My guess is that its not a divorce. The US has few options and neither does Pakistan. We are probably in for more of the same, but with a chance that one of these days the ISI will find itself the victim of too much success and will not be able to pull back from the brink of divorce. Meanwhile, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. So I expect the state department to pass out more money to GHQ, I expect the CIA to fund some new insane lunatic fringe to counter their last lunatic fringe, I expect the Pentagon to ask for more money for weapons and a good hard “shock and awe campaign”, I expect professors in San Francisco to blame colonialism, and I expect Islamists to blow themselves up with even greater devotion. May Allah protect us from anything worse.