U.S.-Pakistan relations strained further with case of jailed diplomat
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 11:17 AM
The Obama administration has suspended all high-level dialogue with Pakistan, a key U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war, over the case of an American diplomat the Pakistanis have detained on possible murder charges, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.
The case of Raymond Allen Davis, who has admitted he fatally shot two Pakistanis he said threatened him from a motorcycle while he was driving in Lahore on Jan. 27, has severely strained relations between the two governments and threatens to scuttle a planned summit among U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders scheduled for the end of this month in Washington.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton canceled a meeting last weekend with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at an international security conference in Munich to protest Allen's detention, according to officials from both countries who were not authorized to discuss the situation on the record.
The administration has twice summoned Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani to the White House for formal complaints and demands that Pakistan recognize Davis's diplomatic immunity and release him immediately. The message was repeated in a meeting in Islamabad Monday between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter.
Davis, 36, holds a diplomatic passport and is a member of the "technical and administrative staff" at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad "entitled to full criminal immunity in accordance with the Vienna Convention," the State Department said Monday.
The administration and Congress, the statement said, "have repeatedly made clear at the highest levels that this matter must be resolved by the Pakistan government or it could impact other bilateral initiatives."
In Pakistan, the issue has become embroiled in widespread anti-Americanism and suspicions, fanned by the Pakistani media and used for political advantage, that U.S. spies and intelligence contractors are secretly operating in the country. It has also posed a challenge to Pakistan's weak civilian government as it struggles to wrest control of national security policy from the powerful military and fends off opposition political parties.
The most powerful opposition group, the Pakistan Muslim League headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, rules Punjab province and its capital, Lahore, where Davis is being held and several hearings have taken place in the case.
Although the administration has been unequivocal in its insistence that Davis has diplomatic status, it has been less than clear on the nature of his job in Pakistan over the last two years. An early embassy statement said it was "security" related, while officials in Washington have said that he vetted questionable visa applicants. The CIA has declined to comment on the case.
On Thursday, the Lahore court extended Davis's detention for another eight days. The U.S. Embassy complained that it was given no notice of the hearing, that Davis had no attorney present, and that he was not provided with an interpreter.
"He was denied due process and a fair hearing," the statement said. "His continued detention is a gross violation of international law."
Although Zardari's Pakistan People's Party government has close relations with the administration, and depends on the billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic assistance, it fears being painted as a U.S. lackey.