By B. Raman
There is no solution yet in sight to the Raymond Davis tug of war between the US and Pakistan. Davis, as one would recall, is the US citizen posted in the US Consulate-General in Lahore as a member of the administrative and technical staff, who shot dead on January 27,2011, two Pakistanis following him on a motor-bike. According to him, he killed them while exercising his right of self-defence since he suspected them to be armed robbers. Another Pakistani was run over and killed by a US consulate car which rushed to the scene of the incident on receiving an urgent call for help from Davis. The local police arrested him and he has been detained in the Kot Lakpat jail in Lahore while awaiting trial on a charge of murder.
The US has been claiming that he was a diplomatic member of the staff entitled to diplomatic immunity and hence not liable to be arrested and tried in Pakistan. It has been demanding that he should be handed over to the US authorities for being tried in the US. He has been projected by sections of the media as a former commando of the US special forces who was working for a US-based private physical security company performing physical security tasks for the US diplomatic and consular missions in Pakistan.
The US claim of diplomatic immunity has not been accepted by the Lahore Court before which he is being tried. It has become a sensitive political as well as public issue with opposition building up to his being handed over to the US from the political parties in Punjab as well as from the religious parties and the general public. Now that a criminal case has been registered against him and the Lahore High Court has taken cognizance of the case, he cannot be released and handed over to the US without the clearance of the court. As of now, it appears doubtful whether the court will agree to it.
The US Government, which has made this a prestige issue, has kept up pressure on the Pakistani leaders as well as the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to let him be tried in the US. Even if they want to oblige the US, the present public mood is against any accommodation with the US on this issue. They would find it difficult to override the public opposition to his being handed over. Despite this, it should be possible for the Pakistani political and military leadership to find a way of removing the case from the jurisdiction of the court and handing him over—provided it wants to help out the US. For reasons not yet clear, the Islamabad Government has been prolonging the tug of war.
It has been reported that the matter was raised with the Pakistani leaders by the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Marc Grossman, who visited Islamabad earlier this week. During an interaction with the local media on March 7, he described the immediate release of Raymond Davis as the numero uno priority of the US Government. He was reportedly not successful in persuading the Pakistani leaders to hand him over by accepting his claim of diplomatic immunity.
In the meanwhile, during the trial, Davis has been kept in judicial custody in a jail, where there could be a serious threat to his life from the other under-trials or from the staff of the jail. .According to media reports, the US has stressed upon the Pakistani authorities the importance of strengthening physical security for Davis. Assurances in this regard from the Pakistani authorities should not be taken seriously. One had seen how extremists were able to kill Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, and Shabaz Bhatti, a Christian, who was Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, despite the high security supposedly enjoyed by them. Both of them were killed because of their opposition to the blasphemy law. Taseer was killed by one of his security guards while Bhatti was killed by unidentified persons. It has been alleged that at the time of his assassination Bhatti’s security escort party was not with him.
In the present anti-US atmosphere in Pakistan, anyone who kills Davis will be hailed as a saviour of Islam just as Taseer’s killer was hailed. Even if Pakistan does not agree to hand over Davis to the US for trial in the US, he should not be allowed to be kept in any jail in Pakistan along with other under-trials.
Under Indian laws, where there could be a threat to a very important person under trial from other under-trials, there is a provision for declaring a private residence as a public jail and for detaining that person there till the trial is over. Pakistani criminal procedure laws are similar to Indian laws. It is, therefore, likely that there is a provision in Pakistani laws also under which Davis could be detained in a private residence declared as a public jail in order to prevent any threats to his security from other under-trials. He must be kept under a mixed Pakistani-US guard to prevent any threat from the prison guards too.
The time has come for the US to talk tough to Pakistan on the question of Raymond Davis. After 9/11, Mr.Richard Armitage, the then US Deputy Secretary of State, had issued a “you are either with us or against us” warning to Pakistan to make it co-operate with the US in its military operations in Afghanistan. The US must issue a similar warning to Pakistan in the Davis case.