By Aamir Latif
A memoir by a former CIA operative that details the broad daylight killing of two Pakistanis and the alleged government role in spiriting him away from murder charges is stirring outrage in this politically polarized country.
The startling revelations by Raymond Davis have proven to be a major embarrassment for many in the government and intelligence communities who, according to the former contractor, worked to secure his release and quell extended political turbulence between Washington and Islamabad.
Davis was contracted by the CIA and stationed in Pakistan when he fatally shot two Pakistanis in January 2011 -- triggering a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
He also killed a third person in a hit-and-run before being arrested.
Two of Davis’ victims, Mohammad Faheem and Faizan Haider, were reportedly agents of Pakistan’s top intelligence service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who were pursuing him. There has been no official confirmation regarding their alleged association with the spy agency.
Following a flurry of backdoor efforts involving top Pakistani and U.S. officials, Davis, facing murder charges, was released in March 2011 after the victims’ families were paid a collective “compensation” sum of $2.4 million after being “coerced” by Pakistani officials, according to Davis.
In The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis, which recently hit bookstores, Davis provides insight into his experience in Pakistan, and especially the series of events that placed him at the center of a diplomatic controversy.
Official help for release claimed
Davis explosively claims that Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership at the time -- including President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Punjab’s Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and ISI head Gen. Shuja Pasha -- were “on board,” and “helpful” in arranging his release from prison by exploiting a feature of Islamic law that permits paying blood money to victims’ families.
Neither Pasha nor Leon Panetta -- who led the CIA from February 2009 to June 2011 -- could not be reached for comment.
Adding fuel to the fire, Qamar Zaman Kaira, former information minister and current Punjab head of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the ruling party at time of Davis’ arrest and release, told local Geo TV on Saturday that the U.S. had used its influence over the government and army for Davis' release. He claimed that the intelligence agencies had pressured the victims’ families to accept the blood money, which was provided by the federal government.
For his release, Davis gives special credit to Pakistani intelligence.
“ISI … orchestrated my exit. Several guards led me out of the courtroom through a back entrance,” he writes about the last hearing in the triple-murder case against him in Lahore.
“One of the men opened the door, stepped out into a courtyard, and scanned the horizon … once he’d cleared the area, I was waved through door and directed to the SUV idling in the courtyard,” he says in the final chapter of his tell-all memoir.
Davis writes that just a few political parties, particularly Jamat-e-Islami (JI) -- the country’s main Islamic party -- were opposed to his release, and had arranged huge protests demanding his conviction and execution.
The book’s cover shows a photo of JI demonstrators carrying a banner with the words “HANG RAYMOND DAVIS” emblazoned in red.
The government has rejected Davis’ sensational claims as nothing more than “fiction”.
“What should I comment on that,” Mussadiq Malik, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, told Anadolu Agency.
“He has framed each and every institution of Pakistan, whether it is the government, judiciary, army or intelligence agencies without any cogent proof. I don’t think this book deserves even a contradiction,” he said.
Despite the denials, opposition parties and the media have reacted sharply to Davis’ claims and demanded an inquiry and action against those who allegedly brokered his release.
“A shameful account of how our top political and military leadership collaborated to let a cold-blooded killer, responsible for four deaths, go scot-free,” tweeted Imran Khan, a former cricket hero and head of the Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan’s second-largest opposition party. (The fourth death he refers to may be the widow of Davis victim Faizan Haider, who committed suicide, fearing justice would not be done.)
“This book should be read by Pakistanis to understand why we are treated with so little respect internationally,” he added.
“This is one of the most shameful chapters in Pakistan’s history. It shows that Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership is so much under U.S. influence that they even dare to exploit Sharia law to appease America,” Jamat-e-Islami spokesman Amir-ul-Azeem told Anadolu Agency in a telephone interview.
“We already knew the whole story, but Raymond Davis has formally confirmed that,” he added.
Opposition Pakistan Peoples Party leader Khursheed Shah -- whose former chairman, former President Asif Zardari, and vice chairman, Yousaf Raza Gilani, Davis implicates in his release -- has called for an inquiry.
“Helping an American spy is tantamount to treachery. Stern action should be taken against all those who were instrumental in his release,” Shah was quoted as saying by Pakistani daily Dunya.
Social media outrage
Heated debate over Davis’ allegations has not only erupted in Pakistan’s electronic and print media but led hundreds of thousands of social media users to express their anger.
“This is one of the most disgraceful moment(s) in Pakistan history and I feel ashamed of this decision he should have been charged for murder and shame on the victims of the family this case let our nation down. Our blood cannot be replaced with money,” one user wrote.
In a July 1 editorial, right-wing Urdu daily Nawa-I-Waqt raised the question if convicted Indian spy Kalbushan Jhadav -- who was sentenced to death this April -- would be released in the same manner.
Jadhav, an Indian naval officer, was arrested in the southwestern Balochistan province last year for orchestrating terrorist activities across Pakistan.
Dr. Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a Karachi-based political analyst, told Anadolu Agency that he believes Davis’ disclosures raise serious questions about Pakistan’s judicial system and the inner working of its intelligence agencies.
“If his claim that the victims’ families were forced to take blood money is true, then it is a shame for all of us, especially the judicial system,” he said.