By David Ignatius
Wednesday, March 2, 2011;
One way out of the mess surrounding the Jan. 27 arrest in Lahore of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, say senior U.S. and Pakistani officials, is a Muslim ritual for resolving disputes known as "blood money."
This approach would require a prominent Islamic intermediary - perhaps from Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates - who would invite relatives of the two men Davis killed to the Gulf. Payment to the victims' families could then be negotiated quietly. Once the next of kin had agreed to this settlement, the legal case against Davis for murder might be moot in a Pakistani court.
A senior Pakistani official in Washington outlined this "blood money" concept in a conversation Monday. An official of that country's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate also endorsed this approach; he said it had the advantage of meshing with the dispute-resolution customs of the Middle East and South Asia.
Asked about such a third-party mediation to free Davis, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday: "The United States is open to exploring any and all options that could resolve this matter. . . . It's in our mutual interest to move beyond the Davis issue, and we believe the Pakistanis understand the stakes involved."
Pakistan also wants a pledge by the CIA that it will not conduct "unilateral" operations within its borders, like those in which Davis was allegedly involved. The Pakistanis say they want to be treated in intelligence matters like other allies of the United States, such as Britain and France, or, closer to home, Egypt, Israel and Jordan.
This exploration of how to end the impasse over Davis marks an important change of tone from recent weeks, when the two intelligence services seemed to be heading for a disastrous break. Both sides want to deal with the problem before it moves to the courts on March 14; a legal proceeding would embarrass the ISI and the Pakistani government and probably mean prolonged imprisonment, at best, for Davis.
The Pakistani desire for a resolution was highlighted in an e-mail sent to me Tuesday by a senior ISI official in Islamabad. "Things are on the mend and in the larger interests of peace and stability in the region, there has been an agreement to continue to work together," the official said.
The senior ISI official stressed the Pakistani desire to be regarded as partners, rather than subordinates. "We need to be treated with trust, equality and respect as the allies that we are, and not satellites," he wrote. "We have asked that [the CIA] work with us and not behind us, and yes, we have asked that we be informed of who else is there [for the CIA] and doing what."
Asked about Pakistan's request that all personnel and operations in that country be "declared," the senior U.S. official urged that such proposals "be discussed privately between U.S. and Pakistani officials, as is customary on sensitive matters."
The Davis case remains mysterious more than a month after it surfaced. He was arrested after shooting two Pakistanis following him, who, according to the official U.S. version, he thought were thieves. But an unnamed ISI official cited in a Feb. 23 Associated Press story from Islamabad said that Davis "knew both the men he shot." This suggests the two might have been operatives from the ISI or even a terrorist group who were assigned to tail or harass him.
The Pakistanis feel they were initially misled about the case. Immediately after the arrest, an embassy official in Washington contacted the CIA and asked if Davis worked for the agency; he apparently was told no. The official asked again on Feb. 2 and again, the agency is said to have denied involvement.
The paperwork for Davis's visa and work assignment is fuzzy, at best. He was carrying three different ID cards when he was arrested. He wasn't included on a Jan. 25 U.S. list of people needing to be registered with the Foreign Office; his name is said to have been added within a day or two after his arrest. It's still not clear just what he was doing in Lahore, or whether he may have worked as a Defense Department contractor before shifting to the CIA.
For now, the one certainty is that the CIA and ISI would like to resolve this issue quietly, with outside help, if necessary - before it gets any worse. If mediation fails and the case goes to court, says one Pakistani, it will be an "atomic bomb."