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اتوار، 20 فروری، 2011

Pak-US diplomatic stand-off

Raymond Davis has visited Pakistan twice under the cover of diplomatic status, and this time he came with changed name to conceal his identity. However, Davis is killer and is an agent of CIA, while Washington is blackmailing Islamabad by applying coercive diplomacy. US high officials say that on the issue of Davis, America will not break relation with Pakistan; while on the other, they continue pressure on Islamabad for his immediate release.

By M. Ashraf Mirza

The United States has seemingly started to understand sensitivities of the Pakistani people over the killing of two young men in Lahore last month by its operative Raymand Davis, whose assignment in this country still remains a mystery. Although it continues to insist that he is a ‘diplomat’ with blanket immunity and should, therefore, be set free, yet its intimidating tactics and threatening tone and tenor to seek his release has somewhat dissipated due to the strong public reaction.

Threats on multifarious counts including that of cutting economic aid have turned into assertions to leave the incident behind and look forward as it’s unable to justify his presence in Lahore carrying sensitive documents and sophisticated weapons without the knowledge and permission of the Pakistani authorities, if he is really a ‘diplomat’. Its changing assertions about Raymond’s attachment to the US embassy or its Lahore consulate have also exposed the hollowness of its claim about his status as well as immunity. Though President Obama has demanded Raymond’s release, yet Senator John Kerry told newsmen before his departure for Washington after a two day crucial visit to Islamabad that he had not come to Pakistan to ‘dictate or order anybody to do anything’, but was here to listen and ‘find a path forward so that we can live by the law’. Kerry’s trip to Islamabad, in fact, represented quiet diplomacy to defuse the standoff. It’s hoped that he was able to grasp the sensibilities of the Pakistani people on Raymond’s issue.

Swift detention of Raymand Davis by the Lahore Police after he committed the murder of the two Pakistani youth and his production before the court for remand the next day has put both the US on weak wicket. The fact that it’s up to the courts now to decide his fate has not only provided to Pakistan a sound basis to resist the US pressure, but has also slammed the possibility of its hush hush wriggle out through political and diplomatic arm twisting. It’s really strange that the federal government has not yet taken any clear cut position on the issue of his immunity thus passing the buck on to the Punjab government to deal with the case. The indecision on its part has rather compounded the confusion about his diplomatic immunity.

The contradictory stances of the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Interior on the issue has made the confusion worst confounded. Former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi insists that Raymond doesn’t enjoy blanket immunity ( unanimous opinion in the Foreign Office) while Interior Minister Rehman Malik was of the opinion that he is a diplomat. PPP Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab had categorically declared at a Press conference in Karachi Press Club that he enjoys diplomatic immunity. It’s not clear at whose behest and briefing did she made this statement. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif says that the Interior Minister had informed him on the night of the incident that document of his diplomatic status will be provided to the provincial government soon, which is still awaited even after three weeks. He also said that the Punjab government’s five communications to the Federal Government seeking its intercession to get from the American embassy the driver and the vehicle that crushed a motor cyclist while rushing to Raymond’s aid have not been responded.

Prime Minister Gilani has, however, belatedly maintained that the courts will decide Raymond’s fate. There is,n however, a general perception that President Zardari has already assured the US authorities that Raymond will soon be allowed to return home. His body language during a meeting with John Kerry lent support to the perception. PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif has, however, accused the Federal Government of mishandling the case. Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a Press conference after relinquishing the charge of the Foreign Ministry that it’s time for the government and people of Pakistan to raise our head rather than succumbing to the US pressure. He had placed the truth about the issue before the party leadership. He has, in fact, sacrificed his ministry for the sake of truth, he said.

Meanwhile, President Asif Zardari’s proposal for the Round Table Conference has seemingly backfired as it won ridicule as a gimmick to sidetrack the real issues confronting the country from the political stakeholders. As the government lacks credibility due to its deceitful and tricky track record, the political stakeholders are obviously cautious about the real objective of the RTC proposal. A general feeling in the political circles, however, is that there is hardly any need for the RTC to build consensus on resolving the issues such as corruption, bad governance, high cost of living and mounting electricity and other utilities’ charges. PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif has rejected the proposal while and Opposition leader in the National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan has termed as a joke with the nation. Other political parties have also shown lukewarm response to the proposal. PML(Q) leader Faisal Saleh Hayat has termed it as an inept move to hoodwink the masses. Gen® Hamid Gul feels it’s a dishonest move.

Understandably, the real motive of convening the RTC was somewhat different from what wasH projected on the surface namely to discuss the country’s politico-economic and security issues. The covert objective of the proposal was to bring the political stakeholders home about the US pressure for the release of Raymond Davis in order to win their support to oblige Washington. It’s also a move to weigh the possibility of negative fallout of unilaterally accepting the US position about Raymand’s diplomatic status and send him back home. The government has opted to seek political support on the issue as it’s scared of taking such a decision on its own in the wake of strong public demand to bring the ‘Rambo’ to justice. There have been whispers in this connection in the official quarters as well. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who refused to fall in line with the Presidency on the issue has already fallen victim and has since been relieved of his portfolio for turning down US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s demand to recognize Raumond’s diplomatic status. The next in line may be Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who too differed with the US stance. He made it clear in a TV interview the other day by saying that had he been in his place, he would have never asked for diplomatic immunity. Meanwhile, the investigators probing the murder of the two Pakistani youth by Raymond have rejected his claim of shooting at them in self defence. The Lahore Police chief Aslam Tarin said on Friday that Raymond is guilty of committing murder of the two citizens of Pakistan. ‘We have enough evidence to prove that it was a cold blooded murder’, he told a Press conference.

The government is, in fact, in a fix on the issue as the political atmosphere in the country is fully charged on account of multifarious issues including mounting cost of living as well as the blasphemy law with religious parties in full gear to launch movement against the government. Nawaz Sharif has announced that the government will not be given any more time on account of his ten point agenda. The situation may, therefore, turn into turmoil in the wake of the political upheaval in Tunis, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Yemen. 
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