The return of a U.S. official illegally held by Pakistan is welcome news, but the overall incident is outrageous and the U.S. role in directly or indirectly providing a “blood money” payment is potentially scandalous. The Obama administration backed down to lawless behavior by a supposed U.S. ally, and in so doing, again made America look weak. This episode adds to a list of reasons to reconsider our support for Pakistan.
Raymond Davis was detained in Pakistan on January 27 after shooting two men in self-defense. Mr. Davis was accredited to the U.S. consulate in Lahore, which means he had diplomatic immunity. Under article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to which the U.S. and Pakistan are both party, it was unlawful for Pakistani officials to detain Mr. Davis, much less imprison him for over a month. He was released on Wednesday after the families of the dead reportedly were paid $2.3 million in so-called “blood money” compensation—effectively a bribe.
The fact that Mr. Davis was acknowledged after his arrest to be a contractor, or that he works for the Central Intelligence Agency, is irrelevant. All major U.S. missions have representatives of several agencies who perform various diplomatic and administrative functions. Whether they work for the State Department or another agency does not impact the diplomatic immunity to which they are entitled—and which is essential for effective communication between governments.
If a government dislikes the affiliation or conduct of a certain diplomat, its recourse is to expel that person. That is the arrangement Pakistan broke by effectively taking Mr. Davis hostage.
Pakistan’s conduct would be outrageous for any government. But what happened is even more appalling from a government that purports to be an ally and which has never had a problem holding its hand out for U.S. money. Assistance from U.S. taxpayers to Pakistan has increased to a sky-high average of $1.5 billion per year. The gall of asking for an extra $2.3 million payment on top of this is insulting.
We should take this opportunity to reconsider our support for Pakistan’s government.
Exactly what is that $1.5 billion a year supposed to buy us? Pakistan is far too corrupt for economic assistance to work, and pouring money into a corrupt system only encourages corruption. The Pakistani military still seems more seized with poking the eye of its nemesis, India, than defeating the violent Islamists within its own borders. Enthusiasts of Pakistan have long claimed progress in changing this, but nearly a decade after 9/11, evidence is lacking.
Pakistan still uses and supports terrorists as tools of national policy, as was again demonstrated vividly when Pakistani terrorists went on a killing spree in India in 2008. Anti-Americanism is pervasive and violent. Sending billions of U.S. dollars to Islamabad and paying bribes does nothing to help these matters.
Some would conclude that our largesse for Pakistan buys us access to neighboring Afghanistan, and the “privilege” of assaulting terrorists in areas within Pakistan’s borders but beyond its control. If the Pakistani government views these activities as being in its interest, they will continue without our massive handout of cash. If not, then Pakistan is not an ally at all, and the U.S. ought to seek alternatives to relying on an adversary. This could involve seeking more access points to Afghanistan from Central Asia.
Others believe that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability compels continued U.S. handouts. But a better defense against the use or proliferation of nuclear weapons would be cooperating with democratic India on missile defense, counter-force and counter-proliferation.
President Obama, who presumably signed off on the payment for Mr. Davis’s release, whether it was direct or indirect, has again displayed profound weakness to the world. If governments we believe to be allies and pay handsomely not only get away with treating us like this, but benefit financially from it, then what will our adversaries conclude? As with every major foreign policy of the Obama administration--and Mr. Obama’s conduct in every foreign crisis--those who wish us harm see only blue skies ahead.
Much damage has already been done from this episode, but Congress should act. Ideally, aid to Pakistan should be halted. But at a minimum, regardless of its source, the bribe paid for Mr. Davis’s release should be subtracted from this month’s check for Islamabad to send a message. Congress should also demand and release all information and communications related to this episode, including any direct or indirect U.S. role in the “blood money” payment. Congress should also pass a law prohibiting U.S. government bribery for the release of hostages, and debate alternatives to our reliance on Pakistan. Through this, Congress can at least mitigate the damage while shining light on Mr. Obama’s dangerous and negligent conduct in foreign affairs.
Christian Whiton is a former U.S. State Department senior adviser and is a principal at D.C International Advisory. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion.
Christian Whiton was a State Department senior advisor in the George W. Bush administration from 2003-2009. He is author of "Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War" (Potomac Books, 2013).