Hassan Abbas, Asia Society, March 16, 2011
Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor the US claimed had diplomatic immunity, was arrested in Pakistan after a deadly shooting incident in January. He was freed today after victims' families pardoned him in exchange for financial compensation, as per a provision of Islamic law applicable in Pakistan's legal system.
For the sustainability of US-Pakistan relations this is a positive step, especially from the US perspective. On the Pakistani street this is likely to create some tension, and the media also appear to be up in arms against the government as it is clear to all and sundry that the government (both its political and military sides) played an active role in this resolution.
The situation in Pakistan can still turn ugly if handled poorly, as rumors are circling in local media that the victims' family members agreed to this pardon under duress — or they may be saying this in response to public anger.
There are several key points the US and Pakistan must learn from this episode: The bilateral relationship should not be allowed to become hostage to similar incidents in future; There should be complete transparency in the field of counter-terror operations and both sides should abide by agreed 'rules of the game'; Pakistan should be especially careful not to play politics in such cases, as only extremist elements benefit from such controversies; Finally, the US should also develop a better understanding of political realities on ground in Pakistan.
One earnestly hopes that the resolution of this case will usher in a new and constructive chapter in US-Pakistan relations.