U.S., Pakistani officials at diplomatic odds in fatal shooting
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 12:00 AM
U.S. and Pakistani officials Wednesday offered dueling accounts of the events leading up to the arrest of an American who fatally shot two men in Lahore last month and whose continued detention is at the center of an increasingly tense diplomatic standoff between the two countries.
A Pakistani official, referring to what he said were the preliminary findings of his government's investigation of the incident, said Raymond Allen Davis fired five shots at the Pakistani men from his vehicle and then got out to shoot two more at each of them as they lay on the ground in a busy intersection during midday traffic.
A U.S. official disputed the account, saying that Davis fired five shots from the Glock handgun he was carrying, all of them from within his car at what both sides agree were probably would-be robbers.
As often-conflicting details continued to emerge about what happened on the afternoon of Jan. 27, neither side budged on the core dispute between them - whether Davis, a former U.S. Special Operations sergeant who carried a U.S. diplomatic passport - is immune from prosecution by a Pakistani court.
The United States has demanded Davis's immediate release under international treaties guaranteeing immunity for diplomats. In retaliation for his continued detention, it has suspended high-level diplomatic contacts with Pakistan and warned that a planned exchange of visits this year by President Obama and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari are at risk, according to officials from both countries who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive matter.
Pakistan has refused to release Davis, indicating that he faces possible murder charges at a time when the government in Islamabad is encountering mounting public pressure to show that it is not being manipulated by Washington. The government has said that his status and the disposition of the case are matters for the courts there.
The Pakistani official warned against aggressive U.S. pressure against the weak civilian government there, saying that the issue could "spin out of control," and the administration should provide time for tempers to cool.
"No one individual in Pakistan, no one organization, can afford to take an unpopular decision at this time," he said.
But another Pakistani official said that the longer the government allows the situation to continue, the weaker it appears in the face of public pressure.
In court proceedings, Davis has admitted to the shooting but said it was done in self-defense. Davis told the court that he fired on the Pakistani men after they approached him on motorcycles brandishing weapons in what he thought was an attempted robbery.
The incident has inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, where many think that their government has been too deferential to the United States in taking part in counterterrorism operations and allowing CIA drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt.
The Pakistani official said his government was also angry that no U.S. official has apologized for a third, apparently inadvertent, death in the incident, that of a Pakistani cyclist run down by a car from the U.S. consulate in Lahore that unsuccessfully tried to reach Davis at the scene of the shooting before his arrest.