U.S. officials let out a collective, albeit awkward, sigh of relief on March 16 when Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor accused of killing two Pakistani motorcyclists back in January, was released from prison in Lahore after the victims' families received a reported $2.3 million in "blood money." The murky details of the case read like the intrigues found in a David Ignatius thriller, but the incident of the shifty former U.S. Special Forces officer and the nature of CIA operations in Pakistan shed further light on a U.S.-Pakistani relationship increasingly steeped in deception.
Tensions between the two countries have been high since the CIA stepped up its use of drone attacks - well over 100 over the past year - in an effort to combat militant groups operating in Pakistan’s northwest tribal territories. Officials say the use of drones, which the Pakistani leadership under President Asif Ali Zardari tacitly authorized, has been successful in limiting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s operations along the Afghan-Pakistan border. CIA operations teams have also stepped up their ground surveillance of Pakistani militant groups. At the time of his January arrest, Davis was working as a contracted security guard for a CIA team operating in Lahore.
But, the drone attacks have done little for U.S. opinion, or Zardari’s approval rating, among Pakistanis, who see the use of drones as further unwanted American interference. And the case of a rogue CIA contractor did little to stem public outrage. What Davis was doing in one of Lahore's less savory neighborhoods with a 9mm pistol, a camera, and a telescope merely helped to cement Pakistani views that where the CIA is concerned, there can be no trust.
And yet, the same is said for Pakistan's own Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. The U.S. has perennially accused the ISI of harboring the Afghan Taliban and backing numerous other militant groups. And despite successive promises from the Pakistani leadership to reign in the powerful directorate, the ISI has continued its duplicitous work of aiding the U.S. intelligence community, while abetting the very militant groups the U.S. hopes to undermine.
Why, then, does Pakistan remain such a close U.S. friend? The answer is because the weak and ineffective Pakistani leadership the U.S. is dealing with is the best of a bad lot and is our best hope in preventing Pakistan from becoming a full-fledged jihadist state.
But, blunders like Raymond Davis merely undermine American credibility, as well as the authority of the Pakistani civilian leadership. The drone attacks will and ought to continue, but with the stated hope of turning drone operations over to Pakistani control in the near future. And the U.S. must not discontinue the $1.5 billion Pakistan receives in annual aid, despite Republican House leadership promises to the contrary. No doubt the CIA-ISI game of deception will continue, but if the U.S. plans to disengage from Afghanistan effectively, it is time for a new approach to Pakistan, one that seeks to do as little harm as possible.
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