Friday, February 18, 2011

TIME TO MOVE FORWARD

Courtesy Daily Times Feb 18, 2k11 The Raymond Davis affair has, unfortunately, blown up into a full political crisis. Instead of remaining a legal matter concerning only the Foreign Office and relevant government authorities, it has entered the domain of public discourse and cheap political manhandling. Much has been said and commented about the American who still cuts a shadowy figure. However, it is being pressed upon the Pakistani government that murderer or not, Raymond Davis holds a diplomatic passport and, as signatories of the Vienna Convention of 1961, it is implicit upon us to acknowledge that he enjoys diplomatic immunity as stated in international law. Senator John Kerry, on his recent one-day visit to Pakistan emphasised as much: international law supersedes the dictates of our local courts. The senator came to Pakistan in what can best be described as a damage control exercise. He spoke lucidly, candidly and politely but he did not refrain from conveying the underlying message: that Pakistan and the US must act responsibly to resolve this unfortunate incident. That, in the end, is what the entire debacle boils down to. We must set our emotionalism and raging sentiments aside and converge at a point where national interest is not put at stake. Ever since Raymond Davis shot two men in Lahore last month, the governments of both Pakistan and the US have mishandled the case in varying proportions. The Pakistani government, without considering the huge risks associated with the case, did not take into account the fact that Davis could very well be a diplomat (which the Foreign Office has also confirmed) before putting him in the lockup and proclaiming to the media that the courts would handle the issue. The US, on the other hand, asserted itself too aggressively when it insisted initially that Davis enjoyed full diplomatic cover before producing proof for their argument. Even now, if the brothers of Davis’s victims are to be believed, the US offered them ‘blood money’ — dollars and green cards — to drop the case. This is no solution and the US itself needs to act responsibly and cautiously. For all its premature huffing and puffing, the government in Pakistan now finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Its awkward position is such that if Davis is not released, vital assistance and ‘friendship’ with the sole superpower will be put at stake and if he is released, the public backlash in Pakistan could shoot through the roof. It is not a walk in the park for the US either as it cannot afford to simply drop Pakistan from its list of allies like a hot potato. The gains made in the war on terror and the threats to NATO supply routes that run through Pakistan are all huge costs if ties are broken. That is why Senator John Kerry’s soft-spoken entrance to soothe the potential fallout came as a welcome break from the high-pitched emotionalism that has rocked this case to and fro. It must be mentioned that the senator did offer a consolation prize. If the Foreign Office, and officials of both governments cooperate and engage in a rational way and hand over ‘the diplomat’, Raymond Davis, to his country, Kerry assured us that complete criminal investigations would be carried out on US soil. This is considerably far more than what we have been offered by the US so far and, if better sense prevails, we ought to move forward to bring this whole sorry affair to a close. As far as any public reaction to responsible action is concerned, the right-wing only needs an issue to exploit and the Americans have given them some juicy ammunition. Now that the blasphemy issue has died down, Raymond Davis is the perfect pawn for street agitation. The Pakistani government is no stranger to right-wing agitation and, if handled cautiously, this issue too will eventually die down.

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