The United States’ pressure on Pakistan to release double murder-accused CIA contractor Raymond Davis has finally paid off as the US official was freed on Wednesday, reportedly after weeks of secret negotiations between officials of both countries and in lieu of diyat (blood money) of millions of dollars.
The Davis detention issue had been taking its toll on US-Pak relations, which were already strained over stepped-up drone strikes in Pakistan’s militant-infested tribal region and disagreements over the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Last month, US President Barack Obama publicly spoke on the US-Pak diplomatic row over Davis’ detention in Lahore, insisting that Pakistan must recognize Davis as a diplomat and release him on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.
The fatal killings by Davis on January 27 in Lahore had ignited a furore in Pakistan, where anti-Americanism already runs high, and the under-pressure government kept on reiterating that the case against Davis was sub-judice and that only the court should decide on this matter.
Further complicating the matter, the widow of one of the victims committed suicide by taking poison in February, saying that she feared her husband''s murderer would go unpunished.
The US, adamant on getting its citizen released, intensified its pressure on Pakistan, with US lawmakers threatening to cut aid to Islamabad unless it freed him.
According to a senior US administration official and a Pakistani official involved in the negotiations to free Davis, the Pakistan Government proposed trading the American for Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is suspected by US intelligence to be an al Qaeda operative and is currently serving 86 years in federal prison for attempted murder, but the US government immediately dismissed the offer.
Pakistan discussed the proposal at "the highest level" with the Obama administration but was told that this was "a non-starter", diplomatic sources were quoted, as saying.
As the US-Pakistan diplomatic standoff over the Davis issue continued, all eyes were on Saudi Arabia for its possible role in resolving the dispute by coming up with a face-saving formula for both parties.
A diplomatic source from Washington was quoted as saying that the Saudi monarchy can prevail upon the Pakistani military, the clergy and the government, and the only way out at present is the Qisas and Diyat approach, as the courts would also abide by the Islamic injunctions.
Under Islamic law, the punishment for murder, homicide or infliction of injury can either be in the form of qisas- equal punishment for the crime committed, or diyat - compensation payable to the victims or their legal heirs.
On March 16- the same day when he was indicted for double murder - Davis was freed and quickly flown out of Pakistan after the heirs of the two victims told a local court that they had accepted compensation, bringing the one and a half month-long saga to an abrupt end.