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Drones, Aid and CIA Contractor Raymond Davis: Ali Dayan Hasan on Pakistani Attitudes Toward the U.S.

Web ExclusiveJune 29, 2011
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In part two of our interview with Human Rights Watch Asia senior researcher Ali Dayan Hasan, he describes the work Asia Times reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad was doing when he was kidnapped, murdered and tortured in May, allegedly by state security forces. He also discusses the impact of drones, U.S. aid, and the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis on Pakistani attitudes toward the United States. “The drone strikes are certainly not what causes anywhere near the greatest civilian casualties in Pakistan, if you view those areas as a theater of war and look at who’s killing civilians,” says Hasan. “But the fact is that those drone strikes have acted as a lightning rod for deepening anti-Americanism.”

Click here to watch, listen to, or read part one of our interview with Hasan.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what Saleem Shahzad was actually investigating? What was the meat of his work that was so threatening to the ISI?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Saleem Shahzad investigated—essentially wrote about—because he wrote about al-Qaeda and the Taliban and that whole terrain of counterterrorism and terrorism in Pakistan, what he basically concentrated a lot on were links between Pakistani intelligence and military, on the one hand, and elements of al-Qaeda and Taliban, on the other, and infiltration both ways, but particularly in Pakistani intelligence structures and military structures, including the navy, air force and the military itself, the army itself. And this is, of course, something that, on the one hand, it’s almost a no-brainer, if you know Pakistan, that there is this kind of infiltration, that there is certainly great ideological sympathy that members of the Pakistani armed forces—some of them—feel. But on the other hand, the Pakistani military feels that its institutional reputation and coherence are threatened by such allegations being brought into the public domain.

And they had a particularly bad month in May with the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden, and then followed by this attack on the naval base. And essentially, in Pakistan, a climate was created where, whether you were a Pakistani nationalist who was protesting the raid that the U.S. conducted to capture and kill bin Laden, or whether you were someone questioning what bin Laden was doing in Pakistan for five years, there appeared to be a consensus that, certainly, it was evidence of incompetence by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. If they didn’t know he was there for five years, they were incompetent. If they knew that he was there for five years, they were complicit. If they didn’t know that he was there and then they didn’t know that the CIA had set up a station and was actually spying on this man whom they suspected to be bin Laden for a year, they were doubly incompetent. There was no good press for them in this particular situation.

In this context, when that attack on the naval base in Karachi happened, Saleem Shahzad filed a story where he argued that actually naval intelligence in Pakistan had arrested al-Qaeda sympathizers within the navy. They had then been told by al-Qaeda that if you don’t release these people, we will attack naval installations. And so, there had been three attacks on naval installations during that month. And that was essentially the story. They reacted particularly badly to it. I think there has to be a connection between the fact that the people who ran the media cell were also naval officials, the ISI media cell that had threatened Saleem Shahzad. So there was a history, almost a kind of a personalized history, which I think needs to be investigated.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Dayan Hasan, I want to read to you Gareth Porter, who’s an investigative historian’s comments on Saleem Shahzad’s book, which is called Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11. Porter writes, “Shahzad’s account makes it clear that the real objective of Al-Qaeda in strengthening the Taliban struggle against U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan was to continue the U.S.-NATO occupation as an indispensable condition for the success of Al-Qaeda’s global strategy of polarizing the Islamic world.”

Porter goes on to say, “Shahzad writes that Al-Qaeda strategists believed its terrorist attacks on 9/11 would lead to a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan which would in turn cause a worldwide 'Muslim backlash'. That 'backlash' was particularly important to what emerges in Shahzad’s account as the primary Al-Qaeda aim of stimulating revolts against regimes in Muslim countries.”

Ali Dayan Hasan, your response?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Absolutely, I think that that is a very apt description of certainly what al-Qaeda’s aims are. And in terms of Pakistan, al-Qaeda’s aim is absolutely clear. And that is that they will either destroy the Pakistani state or they will take it over. That has been their stated aim for some time, which is why Pakistan has actually born the brunt of very serious terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda. Thirty thousand Pakistanis—30,000 Pakistanis have been killed by al-Qaeda. There is also, of course, a deepening and broadening anti-Americanism in Pakistan, which is in part fueled by the idea of the U.S. acting as the global hegemon, if you will, and also by Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

AMY GOODMAN: The drone strikes.

ALI DAYAN HASAN: The drone strikes. Now, this is very interesting, because the drone strikes are certainly not what causes anywhere near the greatest civilian casualties in Pakistan, if you view those areas as a theater of war and look at who’s killing civilians. Actually, we don’t know what happens in the drone strikes at all. The Pakistani military, which provides the ground intelligence and is complicit in those strikes, is not willing to go public with the fact that it is. Neither is the government of Pakistan. So the U.S. is there. It gets all the bad press for this particular—for these strikes. And because there is no information coming through for organizations such as ours, it is impossible to verify whether there are in fact large numbers of civilian casualties or not, whether those civilian casualties are permissible under the laws of war or not. But the fact is that those drone strikes have acted as a lightning rod for deepening anti-Americanism.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the latest news, on Monday, two U.S. drones have killed at least 21 people in South Waziristan. Most people in this country don’t even know this is happening. Can you talk about this view that Pakistanis have of the United States? The U.S., as you said, enormously unpopular. What polls were done when Osama bin Laden was alive, making him far more popular than Americans in—was it Bush? Was it Obama?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Well, I think that there is perhaps a misconception even in the more progressive parts of the U.S., which is that somehow, you know, everything in the world began to go wrong with George W. Bush and that somehow it should all have fixed itself with the arrival of Obama. The fact is that the U.S. has been a player in Pakistan, well, in the post-Cold War world, and really, of all things considered, it hasn’t really acquitted itself particularly well in the region. That said—and consequently, there is this idea that, oh, well, now we’re shifting course, and there has been two years of civilian—of U.S. aid to a civilian government, and therefore all of Pakistan should suddenly start loving the U.S. And, well, you know, it doesn’t work like that. And history is a long business, and opinion building and formation is something that takes a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. CIA has long worked with the ISI.


AMY GOODMAN: Is this common knowledge in Pakistan?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Of course it’s common knowledge in Pakistan. And the fact is that the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, at various points in time, every time there has been intensive engagement, has essentially been a military-to-military relationship. That remains the case, though this time, of course, Senator Kerry did pilot a civilian aid bill to Pakistan. But, you know, there are lots of misconceptions in the U.S. about what the American role is in Pakistan. That is, we hear endlessly about, oh, all this aid that the U.S. gives Pakistan. Well, it would be interesting to see what percentage of Pakistani GDP that aid is. And I don’t want to be held to statistics, but I think it’s in the region of one percent. So, you know, it’s—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, then the question also is, the U.S. has given billions of dollars to what entities in Pakistan, billions that have gone unaccounted for?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Absolutely, and because it is essentially a military relationship and with the Pakistani military. So, in a sense, when the U.S. is privately negotiating with the Pakistani military, I think it doesn’t work, you know, all the rhetoric that happens in public, doesn’t work because their attitude is—the Pakistani military’s attitude is: You are giving us largely coalition support funds. What that means is that you’re paying us for services rendered. Do not expect love and gratitude in return. We do your dirty work, we get paid for it. Thank you very much.” That’s kind of the—you know, the framework.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about an American name, Ali, that most people in this country don’t know: Raymond Davis, who somehow is famous throughout Pakistan.

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Yes. Raymond Davis was a CIA contractor who, one afternoon in the city of Lahore—now, the city of Lahore is the kind of city where, you know, the road network is excellent, traffic laws are obeyed, and if you break the traffic laws, you get ticketed. The rule of law is vibrant and prevails in the city. It’s a city that is full of fountains. It is nothing like you would expect. It’s in the heart of Pakistan, and it’s nothing like you would expect any kind of war zone to be—well, because it isn’t a war zone. In the city of Lahore, Raymond Davis was being followed, presumably, by what were two low-level ISI operatives. We don’t know. We’ve never been told. And he got suspicious, and he decided to shoot them dead at a traffic light. He shot them dead. He shot one of them dead in the back, as he was trying to flee. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, explain what Raymond Davis did.

ALI DAYAN HASAN: He shot these guys dead.

AMY GOODMAN: On the street?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: On the street.

AMY GOODMAN: Got out of his car?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Got out of his car, walked about, photographed them, and he had, of course—you know, it was like the Batmobile, because he had sort of all sorts of paraphernalia in his car, which he was using to—you know, computers and other such things. And then, he must have radioed the U.S. consulate or the CIA safe house close by and a car. It was really like an awfully bad D-grade movie, because then a car came from either the CIA safe house or the U.S. consulate in Lahore, drove on the wrong side of a road, killed a random passerby, and tried to save Raymond—failed, sped back, spewing American flags all along the road. It was something unbelievable. Raymond, at that point, decided to do a runner and was duly caught by, well, two traffic policemen further up the road.

And after that, what happened was that, effectively, everybody in the U.S. government maintained that Raymond had diplomatic immunity. I mean, the joke about Raymond in Pakistan, by the way, was “Everybody hates Raymond.” That’s how they refer to him. And it was this idea that—and basically, the U.S. position was that Raymond was a diplomat, that therefore the Vienna Conventions apply. The Pakistani Foreign Office said that they didn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play a clip for you of President Obama’s remarks about Raymond Davis in February.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan, we’ve got a very simple principle here, that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future. And that is, if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution.

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Well, look, I have no position on whether Raymond Davis was a diplomat or not. What I do know is that his behavior certainly wasn’t very diplomatic. And he did create, trigger one of the biggest crises in U.S.-Pakistani relations. And what essentially the U.S. discovered in that situation, in trying to effect Raymond Davis’s release, was, well, pluralism Pakistani style, because there was a federal government that wanted to get this matter over and done with and wanted him out of Pakistan, but there was a provincial government that felt—that has different politics, and there was a judiciary that felt that it had to take its own course. And basically—and there was the Foreign Office, which said that really we do not have the paperwork, and we cannot even manufacture the paperwork. That was their position. So, these were the situations. And actually, in the end, it was the use of Islamic sharia law, which allows for the payment of compensation, in lieu of murder, that allowed for Raymond Davis’s release.

Now, the point is not what—whether Raymond Davis had diplomatic immunity or he didn’t, or what the final detail of this was. What is important is that it actually tapped into all the paranoia people in Pakistan feel about the U.S., where they view it as an arrogant power, where they view it as—where there’s all these conspiracy theories about Blackwater, Xe, the CIA itself, and a great desire to—often a misguided desire, let me clarify—to prevent the ingress of these elements into Pakistani society. Now, having said that, while one understands all of this, the elements propagating that paranoia and that anti-Americanism are very abusive elements themselves. So it’s not as if—what I’m trying to say is that there are very few good guys in this whole game.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the reaction in Pakistan to the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the fact that he was in Pakistan in such a prominent military location?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: There was a range of reactions. But chiefly, there was—one reaction was that people actually across the board were shocked that he was where he was. Having said that, I think certainly intelligence information that the U.S. has received as a result of that raid, and which they have now placed in the public domain, and certainly in Pakistan, there is an understanding that it really was not possible for the higher levels of the Pakistani state or the military to have known that he was in that place, which actually gives you, you know, a window into how chaotic the Pakistani state has become and how chaotic even its disciplined military structures have become, where your left arm doesn’t know what your right arm is doing and so on.

But the other thing was that the fact that he had been there for—if he hadn’t just been there for five years—he had been there for five years. He had, you know kept his—his wives were there. They had procreated while he was there. It was a family that lived a whole life. And then there was the added fact that the CIA had also set up a station to monitor Osama bin Laden and had been there for the better part of a year monitoring this man who was in there. The Pakistanis were unaware of that, as well.

So the reaction in Pakistan essentially was how unbelievably incompetent the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies are. And, you know, this actually cut to the heart of the matter, because traditionally the Pakistani military had appeared to have struck a Faustian compact with the Pakistani people. And it went like this. We are the biggest bully on the block, but we guarantee your security. And now it appears that they’re still the biggest bully on the block, but there are lots of other very violent bullies, such al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who are committing what amounts to war crimes. And they are unable to guarantee any kind of security. And this is leading to very high levels of disaffection with the militarized Pakistani state.

AMY GOODMAN: The Raymond Davis story also not only goes to he is a, quote, ”CIA contractor,” whatever exactly that means, but that also had worked for Blackwater. What about these mercenary companies in Pakistan working with the U.S. military?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Well, you know, the point is that it is certainly—I’m of the view that you—anyone can work in any country, provided they follow the law, and that they follow the law of the country, that they’re there legally, and that they are not engaging in activities that prejudice the lives and security of others. I mean, I think that that’s a principle—that’s a fairly reasonable benchmark to apply. So, these are ultimately decisions that are to be transacted between the government of Pakistan and the U.S. government bilaterally, if they can agree to this and they can agree to codes of conduct that are non-abusive. I don’t think anyone should have any problem with that. The problem is—the question is whether they do that or not.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Khaled Ahmed’s review of Shahzad’s book. He said, “The murdered journalist’s findings show Al Qaeda is winning in nuclear Pakistan more effectively than in Somalia and Yemen.” He wrote that in the Friday Times.

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Well, I mean, the issue of nuclear Pakistan is a slightly more complicated issue, because the Pakistani military has gone to great lengths to ensure that its nuclear arsenal remains safe. And when I say “safe,” it is—I think that they view the nuclear arsenal as the ultimate arbiter of their security. And they also—the way they see it, I think, is that perhaps there are two parties out—or three, if you will, out to get the nukes. And these would be al-Qaeda, the U.S., for its own reasons, and India, because it’s Pakistan’s historical enemy. And in as far as possible, it suits the Pakistani military also fine that al-Qaeda and the U.S. remain engaged with each other, because if they’re principally at war with each other, that leaves Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and installations safe. I mean, I think that that’s part of the understanding now. Of course, there is a problem, which is that there is a country-wide security crisis in Pakistan. These installations are coming under attack. This worries people greatly. But does that mean that the nuclear arsenal is unsafe? It isn’t necessarily so. There are different command-and-control structures that operate on that arsenal.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the U.S. has contributed greatly to that nuclear arsenal in Pakistan, as it has to India’s, arming both sides.

ALI DAYAN HASAN: Well, yes. Certainly, the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is a defense relationship, though, of course, the U.S. will tell you that it has played no role at all in the nuclearization of South Asia. Now, whether it has or hasn’t is actually the area of a defense expert, which I am not, so I would not like to get into this area.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Ali, you’re making a very strong statement here, saying that Pakistan would like to see the al-Qaeda-U.S. conflict continue.

ALI DAYAN HASAN: What I’m suggesting is that there are fundamental realities at work, and one of them is that the Pakistani military operates in the region as, if you will, a rentier military. It outsources itself to the highest bidder, which usually is the U.S. If in the '80s that meant that you were going to bring Islam to Pakistan and Afghanistan, because that was the U.S. agenda at that point, the Pakistani military, in exchange for money and an expansion of the Pakistani national security state, did that without regard to its immense social cost to Pakistani society and the degradation of civil liberties, human rights. All of those things that—ideas that society holds dear, that people across the world hold dear, were compromised and trampled over in Pakistan in the ’80s, and the U.S. was an active actor in that trampling. After all, it had an alliance with an Islamist military dictator, who created and put in place many of the things that are destroying Pakistan today, including the host of the blasphemy laws, of all of those Islamist laws, and the militarization of the state, the creation of the madrasahs. This was all done certainly with U.S. complicity, if not—and funding, if not active involvement. That is, I think, a very well-established fact, and there's nothing controversial about that.

Today, equally, the agenda is a de-Islamization of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which of course is a lot more difficult than creating the problem in the first place. Again, this is being transacted—it is a desirable end. I mean, certainly, ending radicalization, attempting to control human rights abusers, trying to rein in al-Qaeda and Taliban, who are very, very abusive actors, are all desirable ends. Creating a more tolerant Pakistan is a desirable end, certainly one that should be—but the point is, what is being done in Pakistan, and how is it being done? And the military is now, as they say in England, running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, you know, trying to do this and that at the same time, because it has inculcated a culture of jihad and of extremism both within society, through its militant group that it has patronized, and within the armed forces itself, through the mindset that it has encouraged and propagated. And now it is having to undo all of that, and that is a very, very difficult exercise, because you are asking the military itself to a sell a change of worldview to its own soldiers. Now, this is not easily done. This is a generational, cross-generational exercise. And we find, unfortunately, with the the U.S., because of the nature of the political system in this country, attention spans seem to be rather short, and the idea of what constitutes the long haul in history is perhaps different in this country than it is in the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: What if U.S. military aid to Pakistan were to end?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: I would not—certainly, I would not propagate any—an end to U.S. military aid to Pakistan. But what I would argue is—and we have long argued that—that the U.S. should make clear to Pakistan that where its military is being abusive, aid will be curtailed. There are instruments within American law. There is the Leahy law. The Leahy law requires you to cease funding to military units that are perpetrating human rights abuses. And there is no reason why there should not be a more stringent application of the Leahy law. I don’t agree with this idea, because often when you talk to U.S. government officials and others in this country, you’re told, “Oh, the Leahy law is a blunt instrument.” I don’t think it’s a blunt instrument at all. I think it’s like a scalpel. It’s not an axe, because it allows you to target specific military units.

And I see no reason—there has been a partial application of the Leahy law in the Swat Valley, where Human Rights Watch—we had documented about 400 people had been killed by the Pakistani military. There were so many executions of these Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects—Taliban suspects, sorry, sorry. And they did sanction five units of the Pakistani military that were operating there. General Kayani, the Pakistani army chief, promised an inquiry. He promised that people would be held accountable. Nobody has been held accountable. And I want to know why there hasn’t been follow-up on that.

So what I’m trying to say is that there has to be—look, terrorism is a fact of life. Counterterrorism is a fact of life. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are abusive actors that commit—that target civilians and engage in large-scale murder of civilians in Pakistan and in other parts of the world and should be held to account through due process of law. This is a given. There can be no compromise on that. And if the Pakistani military and the U.S. cooperate on that, excellent. So they should. But in order for this to be effective, it has to be done in a rights-respecting manner. If it’s not done in a rights-respecting manner, then you are just perpetuating the law of the jungle. If you fail to create a difference in conduct between the Taliban and the Pakistani military, or the U.S. acting, for that matter, in those theaters of operation, then you’re actually making the conflict worse. You’re not making it better.

AMY GOODMAN: The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has accused Pakistan of firing 470 rockets into eastern Afghanistan in the past three weeks. What do you know about this?

ALI DAYAN HASAN: I don’t know anything about this. And what I do know is that there is so much posturing and counter-posturing and rhetoric and counter-rhetoric in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, that, you know, we need to take all claims by all sides with a pinch of salt. There is—I mean, there have actually also been militants who have come in from Afghanistan and attacked local populations in Pakistan. The point is, it’s a porous border. This is not a border where there are check posts and guards, and, you know, everything is just so. It’s not, say, the U.S.-Canadian border. It’s not like that. And this is—and so, there is a lot of movement backwards and forwards. There’s movement of regular people who share families across these borders. There’s movement of the bad guys.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ali, are you scared of speaking out? I mean, you’re being very vocal here. The ISI has named you in their longest statement ever, named you by name.

ALI DAYAN HASAN: I’m a human rights defender. It is my job to do what I do. Like, in the case of Saleem Shahzad, he was no personal friend of mine. But I have what I refer to as ethical constraints. If I am placed in a position where I have to call a spade a spade, call out an abuser, then that’s what I do. That’s just what I do. And of course there are—it’s an inherently risky job. You know, the work that we do is difficult. But I like to believe that it’s important work and that one has to do it to the best of one’s ability. And I also feel that I am fortunate I do have friends. There are very many people in Pakistan far braver than I am, who work with a lot less support than I do, and that’s what I always bear in mind.

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