Prisoner Of Pakistan

Seeking vengeance against a superpower is a risky game.

The Pakistani government is abandoning all caution and striking back at America with legal means by imprisoning Raymond Davis, a State Department contractor or employee reportedly with Army Special Forces experience, who killed two Pakistani men in Lahore he believed were a threat.

It is likely Mr. Davis was in fact a spy, which makes his close-range killing of the two Pakistani men with pistol shots a worrying development in the thorny relationship between U.S. and Pakistan intelligence services.It also makes the U.S. legal appeal to give him diplomatic immunity that much harder for the Pakistanis to stomach, even if Mr. Davis is an intelligence operative with official State Department cover.

Still, the U.S. is pulling out all the stops. Sending envoys and the public attention of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton all indicate the White House appreciates the stakes Mr. Davis faces.

It’s less clear if the Obama administration recognizes Pakistan’s anger is about much more than the killing of two Pakistanis, who may have worked for their own country’s intelligence services.

Mr. Davis has put a face on the larger U.S. clandestine and covert effort to target al-Qaeda and other groups inside Pakistan, particularly airstrikes by Predator and Reaper drones flown by the U.S. intelligence community.

Airstrikes by U.S. drones killed somewhere between 1,374 and 2,189 people in Northwest Pakistan from 2004 through 2011, according to figures in press reports and other information tallied up by the New America Foundation.

Prosecuting Mr. Davis for his split-second actions in a tactical situation gives the Pakistani government a way to put the legally dubious but highly effective drone attacks on trial. The theater of a trial would offer a suspicious and angry populace the proof that Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders together will stand against America. And they won’t have to fire a shot to do it.

The ready rage against Mr. Davis, however, is a last warning to the U.S. America has lost Pakistan.

The White House must steel itself this year as Pakistan’s reliability finally falters. Billions more in military and civilian aid are no longer adequate compensation.

The Bush administration learned of the strategic consequences of tactical decisions when Blackwater Worldwide guards killed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, setting off a powder keg of resentment.

At best, the Obama administration could review whether the large numbers of lethal drone strikes are still necessary in Pakistan, and consider prohibiting their use elsewhere in the world. It may be too late, however. In that case, ceasing them might make little practical sense even if the moral and legal case against them is apparent.

The personal feeling of injustice by many Pakistanis is clear. The White House must not forget that the wave of political turmoil and demonstrations in the Middle East shows what the public suicide of just one man in Tunisia can do to radically change popular opinion in a frustrated and repressed region. Tragically, the wife of one of the Pakistani men shot dead by Mr. Davis has killed herself.

The Pakistani government will soon want meaningful revenge for the humiliation and injury caused by U.S. drone strikes. It will take more than a courtroom to get it.