Shot in the dark

Published : Mar 11, 2011 00:00 IST

Mystery shrouds the case of the American Raymond Davis gunning down two Pakistani nationals in Lahore.

in Islamabad

DAMNED if we do, damned if we don't. That is the situation Pakistan finds itself in as it grapples with what is increasingly being called the Curious Case of Raymond Davis. But for the serious consequences that confront Pakistan either way, the case of the American employee of the United States' diplomatic mission in Pakistan gunning down two natives in Lahore in self-defence is riveting.

It has all the trappings of a thriller: undercover operatives, guns, careening cars, sophisticated communication gear, hidden cameras, make-up kits, two countries standing eyeball-to-eyeball, the works. Throw in the conspiracy theories there is never a dearth of them here which range from the U.S. planning an undercover operation to whisk their man away from police custody to fears of India bumping him off in the very same prison to make Pakistan look bad in American eyes, and no one can be faulted for forgetting that the Curious Case of Raymond Davis is for real and not pulp fiction.

The facts

How it will unfold is anyone's guess, but facts have been hard to come by, providing ample room for speculation in a country that thrives on it. What is available by way of facts is as follows:

On January 27, the American whose identity was first confirmed only a fortnight after the incident gunned down two armed Pakistanis at a busy traffic intersection in Lahore. He alerted his colleagues who, while rushing to his assistance, mowed down a pedestrian, taking the death toll in the case to three. Fearing a mob backlash, this car sped away, leaving Davis to deal with the police.

From here the versions begin to vary. Some say he tried to escape but was caught by the police, while others maintain that after shooting the two men who he thought were robbers as they had been following him for a while Davis stepped out of his car to photograph his victims, purportedly to gather evidence that they had their guns out and he had fired in self-defence.

Both the U.S. administration and the Pakistan government went into their respective cocoons, leaving the field wide open for all sorts of possibilities to be conjured up. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad broke its silence 24 hours later, only to say that a staff member of its Consulate General in Lahore was involved in an incident that regrettably resulted in the loss of life.

It sounded insensitive to a nation brimming with anti-Americanism, more so as source-based reportage on television channels claimed that the two men had been shot in the back. Within 24 hours of the incident, the claim of self-defence began coming apart though there were lone voices in the media pointing out that four of the seven bullets fired had hit the victims in the front.

In turn, this only raised the question why Davis had to fire so many times. If he felt threatened as most white-skinned foreigners do here owing to rampant anti-Americanism then he could have just fired to disarm the robbers is the argument of those who seek to counter voices of reason advocating a rational approach instead of turning this into an issue of national honour.

Forced to bear the blowback effect of being an ally in America's global war on terror, the average Pakistani found it easy to empathise with the national sense of being wronged. This was further fuelled by the failure of the Americans to express regret for the incident vocally enough. Until a fortnight after the incident, all that the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad put out by way of an apology was to say we regret that this incident resulted in loss of life.

On thin ice

Finally, 15 days after Davis put U.S.-Pakistan relations on thin ice Carmela Conroy, the U.S. Consul General in Lahore, offered what bordered on a sincere apology. `This incident was a tragedy, and we feel tremendous sorrow over the loss of life. We extend our deep sympathy to all the family members who have been affected, she said in a close-to-midnight statement that was way past television prime time and, to boot, lost in the din of the hugely televised stepping down of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

This statement was also the first time the Americans adopted a conciliatory tone. Instead of talking down to Pakistan, as was the case in earlier statements from the diplomatic mission, the Consul General sought to reason publicly with Islamabad, pointing out that Davis was entitled to full immunity from criminal prosecution under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961. Stating that all countries, including my country and your country, freely agreed to abide by these rules, Carmela Conroy added: We respect the law and Pakistan's sovereignty, and expect all representatives of our government to respect the laws of our host nation. We respect the people of Pakistan and enjoy working and living in this country. Americans and Pakistanis can accomplish so much together. We need to resolve this case immediately and continue our work

Apparently, this change of tone was introduced into the inflamed discourse in Pakistan over this issue as realisation dawned on Washington that strong-arm tactics would not get Americans very far. The U.S. assumption that it could bulldoze Pakistan over such an issue shows a poor assessment of the ground realities, which were particularly obvious after the recent assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. The entire political class preferred to be cowed down rather than take on the religious right-wing forces behind the crime.

Prisoner swap

It was these very political parties and outfits that were the first to take to the streets threatening dire consequences if Davis was released and suggesting a prisoner swap with Aafia Siddiqui, the American-educated Pakistani who was convicted last year by a U.S. court for assaulting her interrogators in Afghanistan.

If the Americans appeared arrogant and to be engaging in a cover-up apart from refusing to identify Davis for 15 days and taking two days to claim diplomatic immunity for him, over 48 hours his job profile changed from employee of the Lahore Consulate General to diplomat at the Islamabad embassy to a member of the Technical and Administrative staff of the mission the Pakistan government has not been particularly helpful in clearing the air.

How Davis was allowed to move around armed is a question neither government has been able to answer so far. Despite the U.S. Embassy's claims of diplomatic immunity for Davis, his status remains unclear as information gathered shows him to be an employee of a Florida-based private security establishment, Hyperion Protective Consultants LLC. CounterPunch, the American publication that calls itself a muckraking newsletter, conducted its own inquiry and found that there was no such company located at the address provided. And the Pakistan government has not been able to clear the air on how a person with such a profile was given a diplomatic passport as conceded by Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik in the National Assembly.

Video footage doing the rounds this week apparently taken during his initial interrogation by Davis himself, using a camera hidden in his shoe shows the American identifying himself as a consultant working with the Consulate General in Lahore with a badge of the Islamabad embassy also. His camera also had photographs of Pakistani security installations though he did not seem to have penetrated the facilities as most of the images were taken from the outside. Still, all this helps conjure up a James Bond-like character.

The Lahore-based lawyer Asad Jamal maintains that all this is immaterial and that popular opinion should not be allowed to hold the nation hostage. A bare reading of diplomatic law suggests that the central question in this case concerns the diplomatic status of the man; all other questions fall outside the domain of the law.

According to Jamal, Section 4 of Pakistan's Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act, 1972, clearly states that if any question arises about the entitlement to immunity under the Act, a certificate issued by the federal government shall be considered conclusive evidence. The court in such a case is bound by the certification or declaration in this regard. The courts of other countries defer to the views of their governments on the determination of status, and regard letters from foreign ministries, as conclusive.

His contention is that even if it is assumed that Davis acted recklessly and with criminal intent, the Vienna Convention would come in the way. The best Pakistan can do is to ask the U.S. to waive his immunity as America itself has done in the past. Or, Pakistan could declare Davis persona non grata and ask the U.S. to recall him. An added possibility is provided in Article 31 (4) of the Vienna Convention. It states that the immunity of a diplomatic agent from the jurisdiction of the receiving State does not exempt him from the jurisdiction of the sending State. Pakistan can request the U.S. to prosecute Davis back home.

Writing on the blog Pak Tea House, its founder and chief editor Raza Rumi urges Pakistanis to use this case as an opportunity to show the world that the majority here are peaceful and law-abiding people.

The Americans want their man out, Pakistan's Foreign Office is silent and Pakistan's right-wing political forces and their allies in the media are drumming up public opinion and playing to an emotional hyper-nationalist gallery. This is a serious situation where populism is overshadowing Pakistan's international commitments. Sadly, the federal government seems to be defensive and indecisive in a contested climate. It is imperative that we uphold the international treaties we are signatories to; and arrest the motivated rise of anti-Americanism. If we have issues with American policies and their interests in the region, there are other channels to address those issues: not the Pakistani TV screens or the overcrowded streets.

But, can the government, which has continuously yielded ground to the religious right wing, stand up and abide by its international commitments? Even if Davis is an undercover agent, he could not have entered Pakistan without the complicity of the federal authorities. A hopeless situation, indeed, for the government as the U.S. made veiled threats of aid cuts and the widow of one of Davis' victims committed suicide, purportedly to mount pressure on the government.

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