The case of Raymond Davis is getting intensely intriguing. Sad that a legal issue has assumed mammoth political significance. It is now a battle between Pakistan’s elected and unelected institutions. Facts have been lost in the rhetoric and fiction prevails, regurgitating the narratives that we have weaved about ourselves and the rest of the world. Hate the US and blame it for all our weaknesses, even if it entails violating our international obligations.
It is time to ask how an operative can be in Pakistan for almost three years without clarity about his status. If there were doubts about Davis, why didn’t our brave security agencies express these concerns before he killed someone? Why was he not declared persona non grata for the ‘nefarious’ activities he is now being accused of? If he did not enjoy diplomatic status, why didn’t the Foreign Office say so on day one? Why the deliberate ambiguity, fuelled by an orchestrated media frenzy?
This saga illustrates typical Pakistani emotionalism. If the sending state declares someone a diplomat and the receiving state accepts him, that’s the end of the matter. Those who rant that Davis’ visa mentions ‘Official Business’ and he’s a mere contractor need to get their facts right. Pakistan’s diplomatic visa does not carry the words ‘Diplomatic Visa’ imprinted on it. When Pakistani authorities endorse a visa saying ‘Official Business’ on a diplomatic passport, they recognise that the person is travelling to our country under diplomatic immunity. If he stays here on assignment, he gets a diplomatic ID card with his immunity status printed on its back.
It is also well-known that our Foreign Office maintains a list of people who have been extended diplomatic immunity. Article 31 of the 1961 Vienna Convention clearly covers technical and administrative staff, as pointed out by lawyer Asad Jamal in his recent analysis (see The Friday Times, February 11-17). When someone covered by immunity invokes it after committing a crime, the proper procedure is for the police to check that list. It is a matter of a couple of hours at best. There shouldn’t have been confusion about immunity, but motivated officials simply passed the buck. No one wanted to appear to be ‘supporting’ an American ‘murderer’.
In the recently leaked video of Davis’ conversation with the police (why was it videotaped, if not for political mileage), Davis is repeatedly asking for his passport, which could have answered a few questions. But who cares about facts? The popular reaction is that an evil American shot innocent Pakistanis. We are unclear about his diplomatic status because he was a contractor. Once again, I was amused to read stories about how that ‘American stooge’, our ambassador in Washington, gave Davis a visa to conduct secret operations in Pakistan. There seems to be no shortage of black humour in our dear homeland.
We have missed the chance to demonstrate that we are a rule-based state, compliant with international law. Our government could have easily acknowledged the principle of immunity, and demanded that the US waive it (as happened in the famous case of a Georgian diplomat in US) or that Davis be tried in his own country (as happened in case of a Russian diplomat in Canada). Our third legal option was to do what Britain did with Libya: Break off diplomatic relations when Libya refused to waive immunity for a diplomat who killed a British policewoman. Instead, we created an emotional argument and will end up doing many intellectual and legal calisthenics before setting the man free under pressure.
Emotionalism reigns supreme. We hate America but not American aid or arms. We have a former foreign minister scoring brownie points for his honourable defiance of the US, a foreign secretary who is giving unclear signals and a media that wants Davis to be hanged tomorrow, preferably without a trial. The bitter truth is that the merits of Davis’ case are marginal to the current hype in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2011.