ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Caught between snowballing domestic resistance and intense US pressure, the government has conveyed to Washington that it will need time to decide the case of the US consulate employee who killed two Pakistanis in Lahore last week.
The government, which has yet to take a firm stance on the status of Raymond Davis and whether he enjoys diplomatic immunity, has informed the US about domestic compulsions as well as public backlash to any move on its part to facilitate for the release of the American national, a Foreign Office official told The Express Tribune.
Washington on Thursday stepped up pressure on Pakistan, calling for the immediate release of Davis. It called upon the government to abide by its obligations under international and Pakistani law and immediately release the American diplomat who is “illegally detained in Lahore.”
“The US government has repeatedly communicated to the Government of Pakistan that the illegally detained diplomat enjoys diplomatic immunities under the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations (1961),” said a statement issued by the US Embassy.
In a meeting with Prime Minister Gilani on Friday, a bipartisan US Congressional delegation protested the continued detention of the American “diplomat” in Lahore. US Representatives Buck McKeon (Republican, California), John Kline (Republican, Minnesota), and Silvestre Reyes (Democrat, Texas) called on Islamabad to abide by its obligation under international and Pakistani law to recognize his diplomatic immunity, and immediately release him.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the foreign office official disclosed that the authorities, who were tasked to handle the issue, were likely to conclude that the detained American citizen indeed enjoys diplomatic immunity.
“The final decision will be taken by the government … it has now become more of a political issue than diplomatic,” said the official, who is privy to the development. “The foreign office has almost done its homework on how to deal with the issue,” the official added. He would not share further details.
However, some official sources claim both Islamabad and Washington were aware of the implications of the matter if all the details were made public.
“He (Davis) will eventually be brought back to the US but how and when will be decided keeping in view the mood of the Pakistani public,” said another Pakistani official, who is posted in Washington. The killing of the Pakistanis at the hands of the American triggered protests in major cities including Lahore, with the protestors demanding the government not to bow to US pressure and release Davis.
The Lahore High Court also stopped the authorities from any move to extradite and release the man behind the Lahore shooting incident. The government, on the other hand, publically urged the US to respect and wait the court verdict.
President Asif Zardari told the party’s Central Executive Committee meeting on Friday that the government had taken a principled position, saying the matter was before the judiciary and that the verdict should be awaited and respected.
However, sources say that such statements are meant for ‘public consumption’ as the government is likely to inform the court but ‘at an appropriate time’ about the international obligations on the controversy.
“We understand Pakistan government’s position and the domestic pressure it has to confront with…but we want this issue to be resolved sooner than later,” said a US diplomat, who requested not to be named.
Meanwhile, according to an initial investigation report, there is no evidence that Davis killed the two men in self-defence. The police, in its report prepared by a joint investigation team under the chairmanship of the CCPO and submitted to the Punjab government, said that the deceased did commit any such offence which put Davis under threat of his life from them. The report added that although the two Pakistan men were carrying a pistol, it could not be proved that they had used it against Davis.
The report also states that the accused had been giving fickle statements as earlier he said that he shot at the men upon seeing that they were carrying a pistol, whereas later he stated that they pointed the pistol at him with the intention of killing him, the police sources said.
The sources said that in the report they also told the government that the accused was not cooperating with the interrogators, making hard to ascertain why he was in the area where incident took place.
The report further states that the accused must know about his colleague(s) who arrived at the spot in a Land Cruiser and fled after crushing another motorcyclist to death. However, the report said that the accused refused to give any information regarding his aides.
On the other hand, an application was filed on Thursday before the court of an Additional District and Sessions Judge challenging the bail granted to Davis in the illegal weapons case. The petitioner, Asif Ali, submitted that the police was giving undue favour to the accused in all manners and urged the court to revert the bail.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2011.