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Kerry Tries To Calm Dispute Over U.S. Man Held In Pakistan Deaths

16.02.2011 13:11

By Abubakar Siddique

On a troubleshooting mission to Pakistan, U.S. Senator John Kerry is meeting top Pakistani leaders in an effort to smooth over differences on the detention of a jailed American.

Kerry, chairman of the influential U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has told Pakistani officials that Raymond Davis will be subjected to a criminal investigation in the United States if he is released by the Pakistani government.

The move comes a day ahead of a key court hearing in his case, when a court in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore is likely to determine if he has diplomatic immunity.

Davis has been held by Pakistani authorities since he shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore on January 27.

U.S officials say the man was a U.S. consular employee who fired in self-defense. They say he has diplomatic immunity and should be released. But politicians and media campaigners are pressing for his trial in a Pakistani court.

Strained Relations

The case has strained Washington's relations with Islamabad, an important ally in the struggle against extremist networks.

While in Lahore on February 15, Kerry expressed regret for the deaths of the two Pakistanis but said the American should be freed.

"My hope is that we can find a way forward together without politics, without getting into ideologies or other things," he told reporters.

His message was echoed by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

"With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan. We've got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future," Obama said.

"And that is, if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country's local prosecution. We respect it, with respect to diplomats who are here, and we expect Pakistan -- that is a signatory and [recognizes] Mr. Davis as a diplomat -- to abide by the same convention."

But in an indication of the complexity of this issue, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan's former foreign minister, today said that while in office earlier this month his legal advisers told him that Davis did not qualify for blanket diplomatic immunity as Washington maintains.

Qureshi, who was left out of the new cabinet after reportedly developing differences with party leaders, spoke to the media after meeting Kerry. His comments -- along with those of many other senior Pakistani leaders recently -- indicate Kerry will have a difficult time convincing them to let Davis return to the United States.

They also suggest divisions within the government on how to handle a situation that poses such a dilemma. An acknowledgment that Davis has immunity could provoke outrage from Pakistanis, while pressing ahead with a trial would further strain ties with Washington.

Speaking to RFE/RL from Lahore, analyst Ahmed Rashid said that after meeting Kerry on February 15, he and other journalists got the impression that the Americans want to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.

"They want to build bridges and have come up with some kind of options," he said, referring to Kerry's proposal that Davis will face a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department if he is handed over to U.S. authorities.

"The problems are simply that the government is very much at odds with itself," Rashid said. "There have been hugely contradictory statements being put out by the government. We've had Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the [former] foreign minister, after meeting Kerry in Islamabad, he has come out with a very strong press conference blasting the government and defending what he said -- that Davis does not have [diplomatic] immunity."

Fragile Relationship

Rashid said that Pakistan's Foreign Ministry was likely to tell the court on February 17 that Davis has diplomatic immunity, leaving it up to the judges to decide.

He says that the issue, however, shows how fragile the relationship is between Islamabad and Washington.

"Pakistan depends on up to $4 billion to $5 billion worth of aid from the Americans every year, while at the same time the Americans depend on Pakistan for various things in Afghanistan. Yet the relationship is so fragile," Rashid said.

"I think the second thing is that it has really created enormous disarray in the government. And the government is looking very weak. And thirdly, of course, it does show the Americans are using pressure tactics to extract this guy as quickly as possible."


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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