Thursday, February 3, 2011

RAYMOND DAVIS CASE: LEGAL PROCESS & PUBLIC PASSION

If there is one truth that the Raymond Davis affair has driven home it is that in Pakistan, sovereignty is a sham. The entire episode stinks of the impunity with which the US does as it pleases on our soil. That Raymond Davis shot two Pakistani youths, Faizan and Faheem — whether they were dacoits or not has yet to be proved — in an act that he terms as “self-defence” was shocking enough, but for the US to insist that the man be set free because of claimed ‘diplomatic immunity’ flies in the face of the facts, justice and fair play.

Reports are proliferating that Mr Davis was not just any routine embassy or consul official. Raymond Davis has been called many things. Washington calls him a ‘diplomat’ but there are reports suggesting that he was a private security officer. News reports have also shown evidence to suggest that he was not travelling with a diplomatic visa, that he had been booted out of Pakistan a year ago because of dubious activities and there were even some claims from Washington that his name was not Raymond Davis at all! That means, at the very least, that he had entered and left Pakistan repeatedly during the past year on a false passport. Now, under this cloak of ambiguity, lies a challenge to Pakistan’s much touted sovereignty.

The reports mentioned above suggest that Raymond Davis was an undercover operative and the circumstances surrounding the shooting show that he was also a trained one. After shooting the two boys with sniper-like precision, Davis asked for a back-up car, which then proceeded to kill a third man in a hit-and-run accident. The whereabouts of the driver and passengers of that car remain unknown and US embassy officials refuse to hand over any information or the vehicle. Washington is issuing statements almost daily about how Raymond Davis’s actions are covered by diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, and that they expect him to be released and handed over to them. Meanwhile the Lahore High Court (LHC) has restrained the government from handing him over to the US and has directed that Davis’s name be put on the Exit Control List. This move by the LHC ought to silence the opposition, who were creating quite a ruckus about the likelihood of a ‘secret’ deal between the government and the US to hand Davis over. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira has said that the case will proceed according to the law of the land. The resignation of Punjab Deputy Prosecutor General Rana Bakhtiar became inevitable after he was removed from the sensitive case for statements to the media.

Diplomats, particularly those from the US, have been riding roughshod over our laws and citizens for a long time now. From traffic accidents, parking misdemeanours and blatant disregard for the lives and safety of the average Pakistani, embassy officials have been implicated in some rather messy matters but have been let off the hook simply because the immunity provided to them, literally, saved their skins. Such antics have served to make a mockery of the dignity, honour and respect that the host country deserves. Now that Raymond Davis, whether acting in self-defence or not, has got the blood of two Pakistani citizens on his hands, it has become clear how foreign diplomats and embassy staff view us. This murder has given the many anti-democratic forces and anti-US elements out there a reason to come out onto the streets and berate the government for not protecting Pakistan’s sovereignty. It is not too late for the government to turn over a new leaf and act in defence of the independence and sovereignty of Pakistan. As seems increasingly likely, if investigations indicate that Mr Davis does not have diplomatic cover, he must be tried and convicted according to the laws of Pakistan. This state-endorsed impunity that has emboldened US officials to commit daylight murder must end.

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