The Foreign Office’s (FO) pathetic attempts to find a policy are, once again, on display in the case of Raymond Davis. Watching it perform is like watching a third-rate review in some backstreet theatre where performers appear in various guises and dance, with despairing vigour, the same old jig (of evading facts and keeping quiet when they need to speak up).
It beggars the imagination that the FO does not know whether a member of a foreign mission is a diplomat or not. Actually it knows, but the man who heads the show will sing you any song that you want him to sing. His short-sighted policy — not to confront reality for the sake of cheap popularity — is the very nature of this government. Time and again we have seen how it bends to ‘lick its own spit’ because reality is unavoidable, which is what will eventually happen in this case.
The fact of the matter is that Raymond Davis is, by the reckoning of most neutral observers, a ‘diplomat’ for the purposes of Article 38 of the Vienna Convention and hence entitled to diplomatic immunity. No court needs to decide that, only the Foreign Office does, because his status is a question, not of law, but of fact, and by refusing to do so the FO has landed the government in a far greater mess than it would have been in had it alluded to international law and said that, given the circumstances, it was helpless. Our politicos, too, would have had to lump it. Because what is likely to happen is that either the US shuts shop and stops dealing with Pakistan or, alternatively, informs Pakistan that the immunity of its diplomats in the US will be withdrawn. Of course, for good measure, it can stop issuing visas for the 1,800 or so diplomatic and official Pakistani passport holders who travel to the US annually.
There are many other courses of action open to the US, and for that matter to Pakistan, to demonstrate their respective displeasure, but what is clear is that the former would have to react in some manner or lose face to an extent that would be insufferable and, frankly, counterproductive. Besides, Congress would step in somewhere down the line to further muddy the waters if Washington does not react strongly.
Of course, it is lamentable that nations lie and dissemble, and want gunmen and sleuths to be treated on par with diplomats in order to enable them to claim immunity from prosecution. But then, welcome to the real world. Lest we think we are any better, we have several Raymond Davis types in our missions abroad, trying to collect the same kind of information that he was. And, now and then, they too get caught and end up being repatriated, albeit without anyone being any the wiser.
The court would do us all a favour by insisting that the Foreign Office determine whether Raymond Davis has immunity, rather than to let the government off the hook by coming to the same decision itself after proceedings, during which our relations with the US will be greatly strained. Of course, there is no reason why we should not take on the US, but surely when international law is on our side, not merely to court cheap popularity. Meanwhile, all should focus on getting maximum compensation for the families of those killed by Davis.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2011.