Davis buys his flight to freedom
By Wajih Ahmad Sheikh and Asif Chaudhry
LAHORE: A tension-filled saga spread over more than a month and a half was brought to an abrupt conclusion on Wednesday as American citizen Raymond Davis was released and quickly flown out of Pakistan after heirs of the two youths he had shot dead on Jan 27 told a local court they had accepted blood money.
A police official told Dawn that the heirs of each of the two victims were given Rs100 million in compensation.
However, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the United States had not paid any blood money. Analysts say it’s technically possible and the blood money or diyat might have been paid by or through the family of Davis, and not directly by the US government.
In any case, most analysts are convinced that the deal that resulted in the signing of the diyat agreement and payment of a huge amount was the result of a deal or understanding between Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency and Washington.
The Lytton Road police had registered a case against Davis on charges of killing two Pakistani citizens, Faizan and Faheem, at downtown Qurtaba Chowk in Lahore. Two traffic wardens had chased down the suspect who pleaded he had killed the bike-riders in self-defence after they had tried to rob him.
Another young man, Ibadur Rehman, was crushed to death by a vehicle that followed close behind the car Davis was driving. The police later traced this second vehicle to the American consulate in Lahore but the consulate did not hand it over to law-enforcement agencies and also chose not to disclose the identity of those who were in it at the time of the incident.
The killing was treated separately from the gunning down of the two youngsters by Davis, and apparently Wednesday’s developments have no bearing on it.
The killings had rocked Pakistan and strained ties between Islamabad and Washington. The US pressed for diplomatic immunity for Davis, leading to some clear and many ambiguous responses from officials in Pakistan. Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was the foreign minister at the time the incident took place, stated that the arrested American didn’t enjoy diplomatic immunity.
The US plea was weakened when it came out that the man was actually one of the CIA operatives in Pakistan. The pardon to him in exchange for blood money meant an implicit admission on the part of the US that either Davis didn’t qualify for immunity or the team fighting his case had lost all hope of being able to convince the authorities here that he enjoyed such a status.
The Foreign Office did not come up with any clear stance on the immunity issue as it did not submit any certificate in the Lahore High Court that could establish his entitlement to immunity.
The LHC had left the decision to the trial court.
The Davis defence team had for some time been exploring the possibility of buying his freedom under the diyat provisions in Pakistani law. The heirs of the two victims had earlier publicly refused to accept blood money. They appeared to have widespread public sentiment by their side which grew further after Shumaila, wife of Faheem, committed suicide to protest attempts at letting the suspect go without trial.
At a press conference just days before the eventual release of the accused, one of the heirs had asked Pakistani officials not to compel them to accept a deal – in the wake of a pass-the-buck game involving the federal and Punjab governments.
On the day the release of Davis and his subsequent flight from the country was secured, the families of the two victims were conspicuous by their absence, as was Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
The victims’ families were missing from their locked-up homes, while Mr Sharif explained that he had to rush to London to be with his elder brother and party leader, Nawaz Sharif, “who was unwell”.
Both the governments in Punjab and at the centre came under more flak from people who came out in various cities to protest the handing over of Davis to American officials.
While the US ambassador again expressed his regrets over the Jan 27 incident, the protesters and current affairs commentators described the handover as a capitulation.
Davis’s release would lead to strengthening of the ties between Pakistan and the US, said a statement by Senator John Kerry who had led a rescue-David mission to Pakistan in February.
It was a swallowing of national pride in the name of protection of national interests, retorted the protesters gathered in Lahore and elsewhere, sending a clear warning to the governments here that it might be confronted with intense public anger over the issue in the coming days.
The immediate public reactions carried a few rather muted references to the presence of a law that allows the accused to buy out the victims’ heirs.
There were also one or two rare mentions about the release being a result of a deal between the ISI and CIA and that a powerful state might have played the role of a mediator in the affair.
Earlier in the day, 18 legal heirs to the victims appeared before Additional District and Sessions Judge Mohammad Yousaf Aojla and recorded their statements at the Kot Lakhpat jail where the case was being heard due to extraordinary security concerns.
According to Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, they forgave the accused and accepted diyat – an Islamic provision that allows the aggrieved party to accept blood money.
An official source said receipts of Rs100 million paid to each family were presented in the court.
However, Asad Manzoor Butt, a lawyer who had been representing the victims’ relatives, told the media outside the jail that he had been detained for several hours by the prison administration and the heirs had been forced to sign the diyat papers.
He alleged that security agencies had taken the families of Faheem and Faizan into custody on Tuesday night and they were being held incommunicado.
A senior police officer said the families were being kept in “protective custody” of law-enforcement agencies.
According to a version from the official source, the victims’ families had disengaged Mr Butt and hired two new lawyers – Raja Irshad and Shabbir Hussain – who filed their powers of attorney on Wednesday and formalised the process of acceptance of diyat.
The source said that first the AD&SJ indicted Davis in the double murder case and later the heirs of the victims filed their affidavits under Section 345 of CrPC, accepting the blood money, and stated before the court that they had no objection to the release of the accused.
In a separate case of possessing illegal weapons, the judge fined Davis Rs20,000 which the accused promptly deposited. The court awarded him a jail term under Section 382-B of CrPC, which was considered as served in lieu of the 41 days he had spent in jail.
As the court proceedings concluded, representatives of the US embassy and members of victims’ families along with their new counsel left the jail premises in a convoy of at least six vehicles under tight security.
Sources in the jail administration said Davis was also in the convoy.
A special American plane soon flew him out of Pakistan with Afghanistan reported to be his immediate destination.
Immigration officials at the Allama Iqbal Airport said they had no knowledge of the departure of Davis whom a high court order had some time back placed on the Exit Control List.
They said the special flight that apparently flew Davis out could have been operated from the old airport in the city which was not under the control of civilian agencies.