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The Daily Need

Freeing of CIA contractor ends standoff with Pakistan but fuels protests

Pakistani security officials escorted Raymond Davis to a local court in Lahore, Pakistan, on Jan. 28, 2011. Photo: AP/Hamza Ahmed

Ending a diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and Pakistan, an American CIA contractor accused of murdering two Pakistanis was freed Wednesday, apparently in exchange for a payment of more than $2 million to the victims’ families.

The payments that freed the contractor, Raymond Davis, were “blood money” sanctioned under Islamic law, according to a U.S. official who spoke to the Associated Press. Under the sharia laws Qisas and Diyat, if victims’ families agree to take money as compensation, a defendant can be pardoned.

In a press conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton denied that the U.S. had paid any compensation to the victims’ families, and reports from the Associated Press and other news outlets said the payment was made by the Pakistan government after lengthy negotiations with U.S. officials.

Davis confessed to shooting the two men, Faizan Haider, 22, and Muhammad Faheem, 20, on January 27 but said he did so in self-defense. The incident was followed by right-wing protests in Pakistan, a diplomatic stand-off, debate about whether Davis enjoyed diplomatic immunity, revelations about his status as a CIA operative, public comments by President Obama, and a visit to Pakistan by Senator John Kerry. The wife of one of the victims committed suicide, demanding “justice.”

Despite being allies in the “war on terror,” Pakistan and the U.S. have not had what one would call a stable and healthy strategic partnership, and this case further complicated the countries’ relationship. With Davis’ acquittal, however, strategic relations are expected to improve. In a press release, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad thanked the victims’ families for their “generosity” and confirmed that the “U.S. Department of Justice will investigate the incident.”

The Pakistani government, faced with protests by deeply anti-American masses, struggled to address the Davis situation without appearing to give into U.S. demands, and officials had repeatedly said that the court of Pakistan would be handling the case. “Basically, the situation has been dealt with according to what was the consensus of the main political parties of the country, including the religious groups,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokesperson for President Asif Ali Zardari, in a phone interview. “The situation was tried and settled in Pakistan’s court of law.”

Many experts believed that this was how the situation would eventually be resolved. Cyril Almeida, a leading columnist from Pakistan told Need to Know, “I am not surprised. This was expected, but not so soon maybe. It is apparent that there is a manipulation of the judicial process, it is a choreographed move, the Lahore courts, the Punjab government and the rest of the story, it just proves that Pakistan is a coercive state.”

For now the gridlock among the Pakistan intelligence agency ISI, the Pakistan military, the Pakistan government and the U.S. government has been eased, but reaction on the streets has begun. Protests have broken out across the country, including in the federal capital Islamabad.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity organization linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a U.N.-banned terrorist group, has protested against Davis’ release in the past two months. The group’s spokesperson, Yahya Mujhaid, told Need to Know in a phone interview, “We will keep protesting, the matter of Davis was not just about murders of two Pakistanis but of the security of the country.”

Before Davis’ release, another terrorist group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which was responsible for a string of suicide bombings and Fidayeen attacks, warned the Pakistan government that there would be consequences if Davis were acquitted. “If (Pakistani) rulers hand him over to America then we will target these rulers,” the group’s spokesman said.

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