The U.S. launched a massive drone attack today after suspending the strikes for long stretches while Raymond Davis was jailed in Pakistan on murder charges. The timing of the attacks adds more fuel to suspicions about the timeline behind the negotiations to release Davis from Pakistani custody, in a case already steeped in considerable controversy.
On Thursday, the U.S. launched its second drone strike in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan in two days, killing at least 40 people--many of them civilians attending a tribal meeting--in the deadliest such attack since 2006, the BBC reports. The strikes occurred amidst mounting anti-American protests in Pakistan over the pardoning of Davis by relatives of the two men the CIA contractor allegedly shot and killed in late January. Davis was freed after the families received over a $2 million in so-called "blood money."
Davis' release was announced only yesterday, but some reporters believe it was agreed upon earlier. Declan Walsh, Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent for The Guardian, for example, noted on Twitter that, according to Pakistani officials, the deal was struck sometime last week but held up because the victims' relatives harbored reservations. There are two other clues to bolster this theory:
When the U.S. embassy in Pakistan initially released its statement on Davis yesterday, the announcement was dated March 10. The embassy later changed the date to March 16, and a State Department spokeswoman told Raw Story that the release date was "just a typo."
Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, however, argued that the March 10 date "confirmed that the deal had been finalised almost a week ago, but its implementation got delayed probably because of issues pertaining to execution of the deal." The Raw Story adds that if the embassy did indeed know what the outcome of the case before the Pakistani court freed Davis on Wednesday, it could potentially further inflame "an already tense diplomatic situation."
Back on February 20, Reuters reported on speculation that the U.S. had halted drone attacks in Pakistan in an effort to secure Davis' release, though the news agency added in a later report that bad weather or an inability to locate targets could have also played a role in the uncharacteristic lull in strikes. President Obama had stepped up the attacks--which are unpopular in Pakistan because they often kill civilians--since assuming office, but Reuters observed that none had occurred since Davis shot the two Pakistanis on January 27.
On February 21--a day after the Reuters report--the U.S. launched its first attack in a month. A retired Pakistani general and military analyst told Reuters that the U.S. "may have resumed the raids in a recognition that the [Davis] case may drag out for some time." According to a search of the BBC's archives (which may not be exhaustive), drone attacks subsequently occurred on February 22 and February 24 but then stopped.
The strikes only picked up a week before Davis' release, occurring on March 8, March 14, March 16, and now March 17.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.