US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Pakistan must respect the diplomatic immunity of US ‘consular employee’ Raymond Davis, who is currently in custody for shooting dead two Pakistanis, in a case straining ties between the allies.
In his first public remarks on the issue, Obama said Washington was working with Islamabad to secure the release of Davis, a former member of US Special Forces, who says he acted in self-defence during an ‘armed robbery’ in Lahore last month.
Washington says Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be released but the Pakistan government, fearful of a backlash at home, says the matter should be decided in court. “If our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution,” Obama told a news conference in Washington, referring to the Vienna Conventions. “We respect it with respect to diplomats who are here.”
President Obama said his administration wanted the release of Davis. “We’re going to be continuing to work with the Pakistani government to get this person released,” he added. “Obviously, we’re concerned about the loss of life. We’re not callous about that, but there is a broader principle at stake,” Obama said.
US Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party, is expected to meet Pakistani officials on Wednesday to try to resolve the crisis.
He told a news conference in Lahore that Davis has diplomatic immunity but it does not mean that he is above the law. He assured that the US Justice Department would launch a criminal investigation into the matter. He also assured that proper action would be taken against Davis after the completion of investigation.
Senator Kerry said that both Pakistan and the United States are signatory to the Vienna Conventions. “We respect your courts, but everyone should respect the international laws,” he added.
He offered regrets and sympathies with the bereaved family. “We are deeply, deeply sorry for that tragic incident.”
Senator Kerry, who helped spearhead a record $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan, said that his country wanted to help Pakistan. “I’m not here to be an arbitrator in this case, this is not my job,” he said.
The US senator said the Davis issue would not affect his country’s relations with Pakistan spanning over 60-odd years.
He also sought to tone down rhetoric on the issue, calling for restraint. “All politicians, ours and yours, should step back. We did not show any arrogance but we should respect the law applicable since 50 years.”
Senator Kerry is scheduled to meet Nawaz Sharif, the chief of the ruling party in Punjab, and, if given security clearance, the families of the Lahore shooting victims – Faizan Haider and Faheem Shamshad.
Sharif had had detailed discussions with senior members of his party on the matter on Tuesday. And it was decided that Sharif would tell Senator Kerry that the matter was sub judice and the judicial process should be respected, a well-placed source in the PML-N told The Express Tribune.
An unnamed US official said that Senator Kerry’s mission will be to “help tone down the rhetoric (over the Davis case) and reaffirm the US partnership with Pakistan”.
But an official source said that Washington’s sole concern was not Davis’s fate rather it was concerned about over 500 American intelligence agents who are in Pakistan apparently involved in counter-terrorism operations.
These agents had been given long-term Pakistani visas during the rule of former President Pervez Musharraf and also during the last few months to chase Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan, the source said.
The source said that US has already demanded diplomatic status for all of its “men” engaged in counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan.
Agencies with additional reporting by Abdul Manan and Rana Tanvir in Lahore and Qaiser Butt in Islamabad
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2011.
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