10 minute readObama asks Pakistan to release Davis

US President Barack Obama has asked Pakistan to treat Raymond Davis, who allegedly shot dead two men in Lahore, as a diplomat and release him.

While insisting that Pakistan must not prosecute Davis, Obama said he was concerned about the loss of Pakistani lives in the incident, the Dawn News reported Wednesday. “Obviously we’re concerned about the loss of life,” Obama said at a press conference here.

However, he said Davis should be treated as a diplomat. “There’s a broader principle at stake that I think we have to uphold.”

In his first public remarks on a case that has strained US relations with Pakistan, Obama noted that the Vienna Convention for diplomatic immunity granted Davis some rights, the report said. “We expect Pakistan to abide by the same convention,” he said. “We’re going to be continuing to work with the Pakistani government to get this person released.”

Davis, an official with the US diplomatic mission in Lahore, has been in judicial custody pending investigation. He was arrested January 27 for killing two men at an intersection in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province. Davis claimed to have acted on self-defense, saying the two men were trying to rob him.

According to US media reports, Pakistani officials would present documents to the Lahore High Court to support Davis’ claim for immunity. The US State Department said that it too would provide evidence in the Lahore High Court to show that Davis was entitled to diplomatic immunity.

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said that the US government would file a petition for Davis’ release Thursday and provide evidence of his diplomatic status.

Crowley, however, rejected a suggestion that the US had put its relationship with Pakistan at risk by insisting on Davis’ release. “We are building a strategic partnership with Pakistan. We are going to build this relationship for the long term,” he said.

But the US also ‘respects its international obligations, and we expect other countries, including Pakistan, to do the same’. Crowley rejected Pakistan’s former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s claim that Davis was not a diplomat. “He does have diplomatic immunity. Pakistan has an obligation to certify that under the Vienna Convention, and we continue to engage Pakistan to insist that he be released,” said Crowley.

Senator John Kerry, visiting Pakistan to sort out the issue, has said the incident should not affect the long-term relationship between the two countries.

“Everybody in America shares the grief and pain of two youngsters murdered at the hands of Raymond Davis,” said the chairman of the US senate’s foreign relations committee, John Kerry, speaking to journalists at the US consulate in Lahore. He said, “We, the Americans, feel sorry about this extremely tragic incident and want to assure that there is absolutely no arrogance on our part in the whole affair.”

Kerry arrived in Pakistan Tuesday on an emergency visit. He is expected to meet high-ranking Pakistani government officials and play the role of an interlocutor in the case that has threatened to cast a shadow on the Pakistan-US relations.

“I have not come here to act as an arbitrator in the case. But we had felt tensions creeping up on this matter and this could jeopardize our long-term relationship,” he said, adding, “My message on this trip is to look at the larger picture”.

Kerry said, “The Department of Justice in US will probe the matter and I can assure you that we’ll take all the evidence into account before proceeding forward.”

Meanwhile, a Pakistani newspaper said on Tuesday the refusal of former Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to ‘recognize Raymond Davis as a diplomat or accord him immunity ultimately cost him his job’ as the foreign minister.

An editorial in the News International said, “An incident on a Lahore street in which three people died, two shot and one crushed to death, has sparked a chain of events that have increasing regional and international gravity.”

“The Davis affair’s latest casualty in purely human terms is…Shah Mahmood Qureshi, whose refusal to recognize Davis as a diplomat or accord him immunity ultimately cost him his job. Qureshi’s principled stand earned him the disapproval of Hilary Clinton who wanted his head on a plate – and got it.”

“And then there is the silence of the drones. It may be purely by coincidence or it may not, but there has not been an attack by drones anywhere in Pakistan since Davis was arrested. The last such attack was Jan 23. Davis was arrested Jan 27.”

“Could it be that somebody in the US administration worked out that continuing the drone strikes was going to make a bad situation even worse,” the editorial wondered.

It went on to say that the ‘highest-profile casualty may be the meeting between President (Asif Ali) Zardari and President (Barack) Obama’.

“It will be remembered that Obama made a commitment to inviting Zardari to Washington after he chose not to visit Pakistan before or after his recent trip to India. A failure to offer a date to Zardari would be the diplomatic equivalent of having a shoe thrown at you.”

Another IANS report said investigators have found that Davis ‘told lies’ when he claimed to have fired in self defense at two men, both of whom were shot in the back, quoting a media report.

The challan submitted against Davis said that ‘during investigations it has come to light that the stance of the accused that he fired in self-defense is not correct’, Daily Times reported Tuesday.

The postmortem report said;

(1) Faizan and Faheem received three injuries each from the back side.
(2) Witnesses say that the accused fired at Faizan Haider at a time when he left the motorcycle and ran to save his life.
(3) The accused himself admitted that he fired at Faizan from the back when he was running.
(4) Two empties recovered from the crime scene prove that the accused fired at the deceased after coming out of the car.
(5) The accused claims that one of the deceased cocked his pistol and pointed at him while the investigations reveal the chamber of the deceased’s pistol were empty and the bullets were in the magazine. And no one saw them aiming at the accused.
(6) If the accused had to fire in self-defense he could fire at the lower part or legs of the deceased as he was an expert at using arms.

The report also found that Davis was not telling the truth when he said he was coming from the US consulate. “…the GPS record says that he was coming from his private residence at Scotch Corner, Upper Mall. The accused has concealed the fact. He refused to reply to any question during investigations, saying the American consulate had forbidden him to answer any question.”

Sunday before last, the widow of one of the men shot dead committed suicide. The woman apparently feared that her husband’s killer would be let off by the Pakistan government.

Police in Pakistan Tuesday lodged a formal complaint in Lahore against US consular staffer Raymond Davis, arrested on charges of killing two Pakistani men

The complaint says ‘his (Davis) claim of acting in self-defense is false and not verified through investigations’. “Davis kept firing at the boys after coming out of his vehicle even though they were on the run,” the document said, adding, “There were no bullets in the pistol of Faizan, one of the two boys”.

The next hearing will take place Friday after next before an additional district and sessions judge instead of the judicial magistrate who has been hearing the case so far.

Police have booked Davis under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which deals with ‘murder by design’, and the sessions court can award capital punishment to the accused in this case if found guilty.

A Pakistani federal minister has said the decision to exclude former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi from the newly appointed Pakistan cabinet seems to have been taken at the last moment. According to Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, a chair for Qureshi and the oath had been kept in readiness, but were removed at the ‘very last moment’, Geo News reported Sunday.

“When I reached the President House, the oath and a chair for Shah Mahmood Qureshi were present with that of others but were removed moments before the oath taking ceremony,” he said. Qureshi was among the ministers who were supposed to take oath but he missed out at the last minute following differences over a change of his portfolio, media reports said.

“Qureshi was being offered the ministry of water and power but he refused, considering it a demotion,” Geo TV reported, adding that a meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani before the oath taking remained inconclusive.

Qureshi has said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had pressurized him to verify the diplomatic immunity to Raymond Davis. “Hillary Clinton called me and wanted me to publicly confirm diplomatic immunity of Davis. However, I refused to do so because it was against the factual position in the case,” Qureshi was quoted as saying by Dunya News Saturday night. “US envoy in Pakistan, Cameron Munter also called in the first week of February and demanded confirmation of diplomatic immunity to Davis,” Qureshi said, adding that “The said request was also denied.”

“Munter threatened that Hillary Clinton would not meet me at the Munich security conference February 6, if the request was not granted,” Qureshi recalled.

Government spokesperson and Federal Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan has denied that ‘there was any sort of pressure on Qureshi to sign any particular summary or give any statement to suit the US’.

“He is making these accusations only because he was not retained as foreign minister in the cabinet reshuffle,” she told state-broadcaster PTV, adding that “such statements would only create confusion for the government as well as within the party.”

Pervez Ashraf, secretary general of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Parliamentarians, said, “Qureshi should have taken the party in confidence if the Americans were using pressure tactics against him.”

Ruling Pakistan Peoples Party spokesman Fozia Wahab said Monday that the arrested American official has diplomatic immunity. At a press conference in Karachi port city Monday, Fozia said that the ‘Vienna Convention grants diplomatic immunity to diplomatic as well as technical staff’.

“Pakistan is a signatory of the Vienna Convention and we must keep the law in mind before giving emotional statements,” she said, adding that ‘the courts are now looking at the case and would decide accordingly’.

In response to a question, Fozia said that then foreign minister ‘Shah Mahmood Qureshi had violated party discipline by issuing irresponsible statements on such a sensitive issue.’

In a sign of displeasure, Washington has postponed the dialogue between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan scheduled later this month. US and Afghan officials were to go ahead with bilateral talks later this month after Washington postponed a planned trilateral meeting with Pakistan, an official said Tuesday.

The Afghan embassy in Washington said that the talks would take place February 23-25, the dated previously set for this year’s annual three-way between the two countries and Pakistan. “High-ranking officials of Afghanistan and the US will combine dialogue on advancing security and agriculture with a focus on key areas of mutual cooperation, seeking to deepen links between the countries,” the statement said.

The US has put off the trilateral meeting “in light of the political changes in Pakistan”, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Saturday.

According to Xinhua, Crowley said, “We remain committed to robust engagement between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States, as we share many issues of mutual concern and benefit from being at the same table.”

“We look forward to convening a very productive trilateral meeting at the earliest opportunity,” he said in a statement.

With inputs from DPA.

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