Thursday, February 10, 2011

LET THE COURTS DECIDE, NOT GOVERNMENT!

By Mahtab Bashir
Islamabad
mahtabbashir@gmail.com

Mr Davis belonged to a country where the Second Amendment to the constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms. Assuming Davis is a diplomat, his behaviour displays scant regard for Pakistan and its regulations, coupled with the violent gun culture of the US. Excluding self-defence or temporary insanity for the moment, if we consider the question whether Davis would have adopted the same course of action if he were stationed in France, it is reasonable to guess that it is highly unlikely that he would. If robbed in Paris, he would probably not reach for his gun, but rather would have had a criminal complaint registered. However, in a country where vigilantism is encouraged tacitly, rather glorified overtly, Mr Davis decided to shoot two people who had apparently attempted to mug him. He was certainly also aware of the constant grossly generalised venom indiscriminately directed against the Americans as a people. This does not in any way justify the conduct of Davis, and the law should take its course, holding him accountable.

The government is in a classic catch-22 situation. In Raymond Davis’ case it has very difficult options. The employee of the US consulate in Lahore had shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore, ostensibly in self-defence, an incident whose motives and details remain murky. The status of Raymond Davis is also far from clear. The US is seeking diplomatic immunity for him, but things have been complicated for the government — which may have been inclined to grant immunity to save its relations with the US — by the reaction of the right wing forces and now the suicide of the widow of one of the murdered Pakistanis.

After weeks of rallies by religious outfits in support of the blasphemy laws, which are now gradually losing wind in the face of a firm denial by the government that any such move is afoot, releasing Raymond Davis may add fresh fuel to their reactionary agenda. They may view it as a golden opportunity to whip up anti-American sentiment among the public and pit them against the government. Currently, Davis is in the Punjab government’s custody and a court is hearing this case.

This has not gone down well with the US, which has heightened efforts to get him released. US Ambassador Cameron Munter has met President Asif Ali Zardari and sought his release. To send a firm signal to Pakistan that it means business, the US has postponed all bilateral diplomatic contact till this happens. Already the implications of this impasse have started making themselves felt. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi postponed his visit to Munich, Germany, where he was scheduled to attend a security conference, because Pakistan has been informed that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton might not be able to meet him there because of this dispute. President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to the US next month too has been jeopardised because of this issue. If Pakistan fails to comply with the US’s wishes, its position will be compromised in the trilateral negotiations involving the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, painstaking diplomatic efforts by the US to reach out to the people of Pakistan and the ensuing strategic dialogue initiated last year are at risk. Moreover, various aid packages from the US, on which Pakistan is heavily dependent, are also in jeopardy.

The shooting in Lahore by an allegedly American diplomat Raymond Davis has been the subject of much controversy. The primary focus has rightly been on the legal position governing an incident like this. The diplomatic status of the shooter has not been clarified yet. The extension of the Vienna Convention’s immunity is being debated, although for any concrete determination, the facts surrounding the incident including diplomatic status, self-defence and the criminal antecedents of the shooter and the victims are imperative. There, however, remains a broader question relating to the incident: what would prompt a foreign diplomat to resort to such means (excluding self-defence) in a country with an evidently hostile population?

A study conducted by The National Bureau of Economic Research in 2006 through a Berkeley and Columbia professor, focused on exploring the relationship between illegal car parking by foreign diplomats in the New York City and corruption in their home countries. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, which allowed for the examination of the role of cultural norms of the home country. In essence this means that consular personnel and their families benefit from diplomatic immunity, a privilege that allows them to avoid paying parking fines. The study generated a revealed preference measure of corruption based on real world behaviour of government officials, all acting in the same setting. According to the study, the act of parking illegally fits remarkably well with a standard definition of corruption by Transparency International, i.e. “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”, suggesting that the comparison of parking violations by diplomats from different societies serves as a credible measure of the extent of cultural norms of corruption. The results found persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on the existing survey-based indices) had significantly more parking violations. Incidentally, relevant to current events, Egypt has been the worst offender, racking up 17,633 tickets due to illegal parking by its diplomats in New York between 1997 and 2009 for a total of $ 1.9 million.

The cultural norms of a country affect the behaviour of its foreign diplomats. Equally significantly, the study revealed that officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favourable popular views of the US committed significantly more parking violations than those having more favourable views. This illustrates the role that sentiment, affinity and perception play in economic decision-making and diplomatic behaviour. The seminal point relevant to the Raymond Davis incident is that the perception of the country and its laws where a diplomat is stationed influences his behaviour and inclination to respect and comply with the domestic regulations of that country. A particularly interesting finding of the study mentioned above is that countries with larger proportions of Muslim population experienced particularly pronounced declines in parking violations in the months following the September 11 attacks in New York City.

The response to the incident manifests the typical knee-jerk reactions permeating our public discourse. The Foreign Office should clarify his diplomatic status and his permission to carry firearms. Mr Davis, if he legally can be, should be investigated for the deaths of three Pakistani citizens. It should not, however, be posited as a crusade against the US. The unfortunate incident in Lahore should be viewed as an opportunity to emphasise our ability as a state and a nation to comprehend, enforce and comply with the laws, both domestic and international, rather than brandishing our imaginary, fragile national ego.

It is not that Washington’s own interests would not be hurt by this impasse in relations. Pakistan is critical to the US’s involvement in Afghanistan. The likelihood is that Pakistan will take help from the court. The government will try to defuse the situation by creating a fait accompli. The Foreign Office may declare Raymond Davis a diplomat by presenting relevant documents in the court. If Raymond Davis is spirited away in this manner, this will ruffle quite a few feathers among the religious and other rightwing parties, which are keen to pounce upon any opportunity to create instability. However, so much is at stake for both Pakistan and the US that there is greater probability that they will retreat from the brink. In real life when David met Goliath, he won, but a client state like Pakistan does not have the option of standing up to the Goliath that the US is.

1 comment:

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