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Ten days after Raymond Davis was released from a Pakistani prison and hurriedly put on a charter flight out of the country, street protests still continue against the government and the PML-N party for allowing this to happen.

world Updated: Mar 27, 2011 01:31 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

Ten days after Raymond Davis was released from a Pakistani prison and hurriedly put on a charter flight out of the country, street protests still continue against the government and the PML-N party for allowing this to happen.

On the face of it, the most important role in the release seems to have been played by the provincial Punjab government run by the opposition PML-N party. The release of Davis was first announced by the Rana Sanaullah, the provincial law minister. Sanaullah is considered close to opposition leader and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif. He is understood to have played an important role behind the scenes.

Religious parties now want Sanaullah's head. Earlier they were clamouring for Raymond Davis to be hanged. At the same time they are silent on two key points that related to the release of Davis. One is the controversial Qisas and Diyat laws under which by paying blood money Davis was let off and the other is the role played by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in making the seemingly impossible task possible.

"The politicians are taking the blame but if you ask anyone close to the whole release process, it is clear that the ISI played an important role in making it happen," says analyst Aisha Siddiqa, who adds "the message to the US is simple: if you want something done in Pakistan, it's the ISI you have to contact."

It is ironic in some ways that while on the one hand the military was seen as the biggest obstacle in the release of Davis - because the two men he killed were ISI operatives - yet at the end of the day it was army that brokered the deal to have him freed.

For the government, every day was a challenge as Raymond Davis was behind bars. At home, people were afraid of a sell out. But President Zardari and his team knew that a compromise had to be reached given the dependence Pakistan has on the US for its finances and also the key role Washington is playing in Pakistan's war against terror.

The government was also fearful that if US backing was stopped, there could be political consequences for it. Possibly the lure of political brownie points got the army into the act. The ISI came into the act a week before Davis was released. Journalist Asad Kharal details how the ground was set to facilitate the release.

Kharal says that in late February the ISI started collecting details of the family members of the two victims. Pressure was the put on the family members to accept the payment that would be made to them.

Two days before the release of Davis, the two parties that were championing the cause of the victims went quiet. Supporters of Jamaat-ud Dawah and the Jamaat-e-Islami, both extremist right wing organisations, mysteriously disappeared from the streets where these families lived.

Till then they claimed they were there to ensure the safety.

But it was not only the families that left. PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif who had earlier assured US Senator John Kerry that he would ensure the release of Davis, silently left the country and soon after was followed by his brother, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif on the grounds that Nawaz Sharif was having heart trouble.

Their absence meant distancing themselves from the embarrassment of the saga, given their party's right wing credentials.

The ISI also changed the lawyer of the victims' families and then ferreted them out of the country - believed to be the UAE, as once Davis was released a petition was filed in the courts to find out where the missing family members were. If they remained in Pakistan, the ISI would have had to face legal complications.

Now, while religious parties question the method of the application of the Diyat law, no one is questioning the law itself.

When the law was passed in 1997 during the prime ministership of Nawaz Sharif, critics had said that the law privatised a crime like homicide and devolved the responsibility of punishing the killer to the next of kin of the victim.

In the meantime, the ISI planted stories in the media that the deal had been brokered by it and the CIA. In return, its officials privately told newsmen, the CIA had assured it would take Pakistan into confidence on the drone attacks and also identify its operatives in the field. The ISI also claimed it would secure more funding for Pakistan under the new deal with the CIA.

None of this happened. This myth was shattered the next day when the US conducted a drone strike in North Waziristan which led to the death of 38 persons - the highest casualty figure in many years.

Now both the government and the ISI is licking its wounds. At the same time, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has capitalised on the release of Davis and held protests in all major cities of Pakistan. Party leader Imran Khan is enjoying a spurt in popularity because of his anti-America rhetoric.

Religious parties have also become more active and anti-American sentiments are at an all time high. The two parties that played a role in the release - the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and the opposition PML-N, are understandably silent.

But other officials who were casualties in the affair have also lost out - this include former foreign affairs minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi whose ill-timed speech against Davis and the government has not earned him any new supporters.

In long term Pakistan-US relations, the Raymond Davis affair may be forgotten. But for mandarins at Pakistan's foreign office, the key point to remember, they say, is that on foreign policy issues, it is the ISI and not the government which eventually calls the shots.

This lesson was reinforced in the Raymond Davis affair.