ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani Taliban warned the government on Tuesday it would punish any move to release a US consulate employee accused of murdering two Pakistanis in a case that has inflamed already strained ties with Washington.
“If (Pakistani) rulers hand him over to America then we will target these rulers. If Pakistani courts cannot punish Davis then they should hand him over to us,” said Azam Tariq, spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban movement of Pakistan).
“We will give exemplary punishment to the killer Davis.”
The warning from the al-Qaeda linked Taliban, which has kept up suicide bombings to destabilise Pakistan’s government despite several army offensives, underscores the charged atmosphere surrounding Davis’ case.
US Senator John Kerry was due in Pakistan as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to resolve the crisis.
Raymond Davis, the US consular employee jailed in Lahore for shooting two Pakistanis last month, says he acted in self-defence during an armed robbery.
Washington insists Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be released but the Pakistani government, fearful of a backlash from Pakistanis already wary of the United States and enraged by the shooting, says the matter should be decided in court.
On Thursday, the United States is expected to present a petition to a Lahore court to certify that Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be released.
Religious parties don’t win many votes in elections. But the government can’t afford to ignore the groups who often seize on issues concerning the United States to promote their cause.
“Of course he (Davis) should not be released. He has committed a crime and he should be punished. He doesn’t have immunity,” said Yahya Mujhaid, a spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which was blacklisted by the UN over its links to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group blamed for the 2008 attack on Mumbai. It denies it has links to the LeT.
“If he is released, we will register our protest but in a peaceful way. We will hold rallies … Not only us, the whole of Pakistan will protest against any such move.”
Supporters of the slain men have held protests and burned US flags. In addition to the two men Davis shot, a third man was killed when a U.S. consulate vehicle, apparently trying to rescue Davis, struck and killed a passer-by.