The case of American citizen Raymond Davis killing two Pakistani youths in Lahore is now with a judicial magistrate, even as the Lahore High Court has seen to it that Mr Davis does not leave Pakistan till the matter is decided under law. To ensure proper adjudication, the Punjab government’s prosecutor before the court has been removed because he had publicly discussed the case in a manner adjudged prejudicial by the high court.
The shootout took place in the midst of growing anti-American feeling in the country. News about American drones killing innocent Pakistanis in tribal areas have been relayed graphically in the media, including coverage of a protest by tribesmen appealing to the government to do something about the attacks. There is a nationwide campaign by religious parties on the question of the blasphemy law and it targets the West, America in particular – the latter is cited, in large part, as applying pressure on the government of Pakistan to change or repeal the law.
Reporting the case, the media has mostly conveyed the feelings of the people and preliminary reactions of state officials, which are negative and tend to speculate that Mr Davis killed the youths without cause and that he should be punished. Passion is aroused by further speculation that the government will let the ‘American killer’ leave Pakistan under pressure from Washington. The general opinion is that Mr Davis should be made an example of how the Pakistani state will restore its sovereignty and self-respect by subjecting him to its law.
Mr Davis has taken the plea of self-defence while the US embassy has claimed diplomatic immunity for him and called his arrest a violation of the regime of treatment of diplomatic personnel between the two countries. The plea of self-defence is based on the claim that the two men killed by Mr Davis endangered his life by pointing their guns at him. No one appearing in the media has confirmed this, although some claim has been made that the two were robbers. Two citizens have also claimed that they were robbed by the two earlier.
The waters have been muddied by the discussion of the law of immunity under the Vienna Conventions. Some legal experts believe that under these conventions, Mr Davis does not qualify for diplomatic immunity – and in this regard, a US news report has been cited in which it has been claimed that Mr Davis worked for a private company as a contractor for the US government. There is also the question of ‘practice’ between the US and Pakistan, on which the Foreign Office in Islamabad has to furnish its considered opinion. In any case, the issue of whether Mr Davis was here on a business visa or a diplomatic visa has not been officially clarified by Islamabad, leading some to wonder about the reason for such reluctance.
Then there is the unavoidable question of relations with a superpower which is an ally and a source of economic assistance to Pakistan. In the past, Pakistan has been making ‘legal concessions’ to the US, handing over terrorists without any trial. (This must be read together with the fact that judges in Pakistan are not protected against terrorist threats and have been observed letting off terrorism suspects.) The National Assembly and the Senate have, therefore, echoed with noisy appeals to let Mr Davis taste the fruits of his act.
Anywhere in the world, the legal process should not be mixed with public passions. Once this happens, everyone comes under pressure and the ability of the state to act wisely is severely curtailed. The best option now is that the court should decide the matter in the light of the law and formal reciprocal understandings should be reached between Pakistan and the US in the case of officials working in each other’s jurisdiction. And in this regard, it is the Foreign Office which must play its role without bowing to any internal or external pressure. The emotion being expressed in the media will ill-serve the cause of justice and adversely affect US-Pakistan relations.