Lahore — Things have changed since I was last in Pakistan three years ago — and even more radically since I was last in Lahore more than a decade ago.
Now I am advised by local friends that it would be dangerous for me as a white male foreigner to go to parks and markets — even if wearing a shalwar kameez like most local men seem to do these days.
It is particularly hazardous because of the incident last Thursday during which an employee of the U.S. consulate here, one Raymond Davis, shot and killed two local youths riding a motorbike next to his car. Apparently Davis feared robbery or worse from the two men, who, according to the Punjab police, were armed with pistols. (Naturally their families claim they are innocent, God-fearing passersby murdered by an evil American.) Carjackings and robberies of motorists for their mobile phones are apparently a common phenomenon in the city as law and order becomes increasingly ragged: The driver of one my hosts here was shot and wounded in one such incident earlier this year.
Below are photos of the spot where Davis shot his alleged assailants. They are taken from a moving car, for obvious reasons.
Davis was arrested at the scene and has been charged with murder. Unfortunately for all concerned, Davis is not numbered among the consulate officials licensed to carry firearms. Nor apparently is he registered as a diplomat, so may not have diplomatic immunity. The incident has put the Zardari government in an extremely embarrassing position. After all, if the government lets U.S. officials spirit Davis out of the country, or in any way seems to concede to American pressure, it will give a huge boost to the Islamists and others who claim that Zardari is a U.S. puppet.
The behavior of the quick-reaction team sent from the U.S. consulate after Davis called them from the scene has made things even worse for Pakistani-American relations and for Davis. Speeding to Davis’s rescue, their vehicle raced the wrong way down a one-way street and struck and killed an innocent passerby.
It may be that the team forgot that they were not in Afghanistan or Iraq, where U.S. forces and contractors have generally not had to answer to local authorities or local opinion, but in the crowded streets of a country that is very much not under an American thumb. Or perhaps the driver was a local and used to the ways of the country’s elite, who rarely let straying pedestrians delay them for long. In any case, as sometimes happens, doing the reckless thing and thereby killing an innocent ended up undermining both the immediate mission and America’s reputation here. The accident apparently prompted an angry crowd to gather and block the roads, ensuring that Davis couldn’t get away from the area and was arrested by local authorities.
The United States — specifically the State Department — has also done itself no favors by absurdly refusing to name the American who shot and killed the motorcycle riders even though the whole world knows that he is here under the name Raymond Davis. That, combined with the hedging about whether or not Davis has diplomatic status (and therefore immunity), has only deepened the impression that he is either a CIA paramilitary operative or, worse, a private security agent from one of the companies like Blackwater to which the U.S. has outsourced some intelligence tasks.
The whole incident has intensified the always-noxious anti-Americanism of Pakistani public opinion. In the same breath as ranting about American interference in a criminal case, and the need for justice to take its course, the English-language press here refers to Davis as “The American Killer.” The various Islamist parties are, naturally, calling him a “terrorist”.
There are also suggestions that “The American Killer” be exchanged for Dr Aafia Siddiqi, the Pakistani neuroscientist and alleged al-Qaeda terrorist (her second husband is the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) convicted of attempted murder of U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan. However, many commentators here, such as Iqbal Haider, the former head of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, are at pains to claim her innocence — whereas “Davis has killed three people [sic] in broad daylight.”
— Jonathan Foreman is writer-at-large for StandpointOnline.