Six representatives of the US Congress asked Zardari to free Raymond Davis, who was arrested after killing two motorcyclists in broad daylight on the streets of Lahore, in what the American said was self-defence.
“It would be prudent to wait for the legal course to be completed,” Zardari’s office quoted him as saying during the meeting, which the US embassy said was planned before last week’s killings.
President’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that while the president “appreciated” the congressmen’s concern “the matter was already before the courts”.
The US embassy in Islamabad has requested Davis’ immediate release, claiming diplomatic immunity on his behalf.
Babar said the president told the delegation that people needed priority attention and assistance to overcome financial difficulties and urged it to use its influence to secure market access and trade for the country. Later, the US Congressional delegation called on Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at the PM’s House in the afternoon.
Gilani said the US must quicken the pace of disbursement of its economic assistance for the development projects not only in the affected areas but throughout the country to help the government sustain the momentum and retain the support of the masses in fight against terrorism.
The prime minister termed the US assistance as pivotal for the success in war against terror. Gilani said he expected that the US would not discriminate among the South Asian countries and Pakistan would be treated at par with its neighbour, particularly in the field of nuclear energy cooperation.
The US Embassy in Pakistan has already called “for the immediate release of a US diplomat unlawfully detained by authorities in Lahore” who “has a US diplomatic passport and Pakistani visa valid until June 2012”, according to a US Embassy press release. Pakistani authorities have so far refused to entertain this request. “This matter is sub judice in a court of law and the legal process should be respected,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abdul Basit. PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif also told US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter that the matter of American national Raymond Davis was sub judice and “this sad incident has caused deep sorrow and grief to the entire nation”. Ambassador Munter rang up Mr Sharif to express regret over the death of three Pakistanis who lost their lives in Lahore recently.
The events leading up to Mr Davis’ arrest are shrouded in mystery. Mr Davis has been charged with double murder and taken into custody. He claims that he shot the two armed men in self-defence when they confronted him. It has since been revealed that both men were shot from behind, which makes the self-defence plea untenable. Pakistani authorities claim that Mr Davis was on a visit visa, hence he cannot get diplomatic immunity. The White House maintains that ‘Raymond Davis’ is not his real name. US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “We have not released the identity of our employee at this point.” Some reports indicate that Mr Davis runs Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, a company that provides “loss and risk management professionals”. It is still not clear in what capacity Mr Davis was working for the US Consulate in Lahore, given the fact that not only was he armed but a well trained shooter as well. This seems to be the latest and the most current avatar of ‘the ugly American’. Instead of cooperating with the authorities, the US administration is pressurising the Pakistani government to release Mr Davis. Anti-American sentiment is already rife in Pakistan. By asking the Pakistani state to let Mr Davis leave the country without a proper court hearing, the Americans are not doing their already hated image much good. The right-wing forces are busy exploiting this incident to further their own vested interests. The PPP government has a tough task at hand. It is the only government to have built a consensus in favour of the war on terror by owning this war and asking the people to cooperate as it is a war for our own survival. If Mr Davis is released without due process, those who continue to term it as the US’s war will take advantage of the situation. Instead of going around in circles, the US should come clean on Mr Davis’s real identity and his position at the US Consulate.
The US must realise that Pakistan is its frontline ally in the war against terror but that does not mean it can allow American nationals to violate the law of the land. If indeed Mr Davis acted in self-defence, the investigations will uncover that and the court of law will then make a judgement accordingly. Bilateral relations between the two countries have seen their ups and downs over the years. Cooperation from Pakistan may be lacking in some areas but arm-twisting measures by the US do not help the situation on the ground. Both countries should handle this incident with extreme care and let the law of the land prevail.