- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A CIA contractor accused of murdering two Pakistani men walked out of a Lahore prison Wednesday after the families of the dead men “pardoned” him after receiving more than $2 million in blood money, officials said.

The release of Raymond Allen Davis capped weeks of intense negotiations between CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and his counterpart in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

“The agency and our Pakistani counterparts have had a strong relationship for years,” CIA spokesman George Little said. “When issues arise, it’s our standing practice to work through them. That’s the sign of a healthy partnership - one that’s vital to both countries, especially as we face a common set of terrorist enemies.”

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan became strained when Islamabad refused to recognize Mr. Davis‘ diplomatic immunity as a member of the U.S. Embassy. Mr. Davis shot two armed men Jan. 27 at a traffic stop in Lahore and said they had tried to rob him.

Pakistanis, already outraged over U.S. drone attacks against suspected Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in the northwestern part of the country, demanded that Mr. Davis be tried and hanged, while officials held the American.

“We expect the [U.S.-Pakistan] relationship to return to normal now that this is over,” a Pakistani diplomat told The Washington Times.

The Raymond Davis affair shed light on the often secret counterterrorism partnership between the United States and Pakistan.

Mr. Davis was in Lahore as part of a security detail to protect CIA officers collecting intelligence on terrorist groups in the city. U.S. officials have been loath to discuss CIA activities in Pakistan, fearing the U.S. operations could spark a public backlash against the weak government in Islamabad.

The incident also exposed the limits of traditional diplomacy in some cases. U.S. officials say Pakistani authorities paid three Pakistani families more than $700,000 each. In exchange, the families pardoned Mr. Davis.

The decision to pay the blood money, or diyat, was made after initial diplomatic discussions for the release of Mr. Davis hit a dead end.

The U.S. Embassy argued that because Mr. Davis was registered as a diplomat, the Pakistani authorities had an obligation under international law to grant him diplomatic immunity.

Pakistani authorities, however, said his immunity was a matter for the courts, and a court in Lahore ruled that Mr. Davis would have to stand trial for murder. His release occurred just before his double murder trial was set to start.

“This was decided in Pakistan, according the Pakistani law and the Pakistani courts,” the Pakistani diplomat told The Washington Times. “There is a provision in Pakistani law for compensating the families of someone who has been murdered.” This is also a feature of regional Islamic, or Shariah, law.

Speaking in Cairo on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States did not pay the blood money to the Pakistani families. When asked who did, Mrs. Clinton replied, “You will have to ask the families.”

A U.S. official also told The Times that the Pakistani government arranged for the payment of the blood money. However, this official allowed that Islamabad could ask for compensation at a later time.

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