This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 16/03/2011
CIA contractor Raymond Davis was released from a Pakistani prison today, thanks to the Muslim ritual known as “blood money.” Next, Pakistan and America will try to clear away some of the bitterness aroused by the case and establish a better relationship based, as President Obama likes to say, on “mutual interest and mutual respect.”
The CIA and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, are planning to do just that. A Pakistani says the goal is “new rules of engagement.” A U.S. official says they will discuss “the contours of the relationship.” For both sides, it represents an attempt to rebuild trust after weeks of bitter accustations following the Jan. 27 arrest of Davis for killing two Pakistanis in Lahore.
In Pakistan’s tribal culture, “blood money” payments are seen as a face-saving way of resolving bloody disputes. I described the blood money approach in a March 2 column , after interviews on Feb. 28 with U.S. and Pakistani officials.
This deal had four principal architects: Hussein Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, who shared the “blood money” idea with Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry then traveled to Pakistan, where me met with President Asif Ali Zardari, with the leaders of the Punjab government that was holding Davis, and with top officials of the ISI. Haqqani also visited CIA Director Leon Panetta the evening of Feb. 28 to share the “blood money” idea with him, according to a U.S. official. The final details were worked out by Panetta and ISI Director-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
U.S. and Pakistani sources said the process that led to Davis’s release Wednesday included a series of steps: First, the U.S. agreed to pay compensation to the families of the two Pakistanis Davis killed on Jan. 27. A Pakistani lawyer quoted by the Associated Press said the total payments amounted to $2.3 million. Another Pakistani source told me the payments were less than $1 million for each family. According to a U.S. official, the actual negotiations were conducted by Pakistanis, but the U.S. has agreed to pay the bill.
After the families reached the private financial agreement and formally forgave Davis, the settlement was recognized by the trial court in Punjab, which could then dismiss the murder charges under what is described as a standard process in Pakistani murder cases. With the murder charges dismissed, the Punjabi court resolved lesser charges against Davis, and he was freed.
An important aspect of the settlement, for the U.S., was that the principal of diplomatic immunity was never formally challenged in Pakistani courts. The Pakistani High Court refused to rule on the question and the trial court didn’t make a finding, either. That was crucial for the U.S., which feared that a legal challenge to its claim of immunity for Davis would expose hundreds of other undercover agents around the world who rely on the legal protection of their formal status as “diplomats.”
The final piece of the settlement may be the most complicated. Pakistani officials say discussions will begin soon with the CIA about the “rules of engagement” in Pakistan. “If it’s a CIA operation, the ISI needs to know,” explained one Pakistani official. The CIA has a roughly similar policy of “declaring” its personnel and operations with some other countries with which it has close intelligence ties, such as Britain, France, Israel and Jordan.
A U.S. official confirmed that the CIA is planning to discuss the “contours” of the relationship, but he said there was no formal “quid pro quo.” This official explained that the CIA “is always willing to discuss Pakistani concerns and work them through.”