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Old Wednesday, February 02, 2011
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Arrow Licensed to kill?

Licensed to kill?


Asif Ezdi
Wednesday, February 02, 2011

You only have to read the three press releases issued by the US embassy on the shooting to death last week of two Pakistanis by an American employee of their consulate at Lahore to see through the sheer flimsiness of the claim of his diplomatic immunity.

The first press release described the perpetrator as “a staff member of the US consulate general in Lahore”. Crowley, the spokesman of the US State Department, also designated him as “an employee at the US consulate in Lahore.” The killer himself told the Lahore police and the magistrate’s court that he works as a technical adviser at the consulate. (Since Crowley denied categorically that the person in question was named Raymond Davis and since US officials refuse to divulge his true name, we will call him the first killer, to distinguish him from the second killer, unnamed and unidentified, who knocked down and crushed a Pakistani motorcyclist to death the same day, while trying to reach the first killer.

The second press release, issued a day later, had a different story. It described the first killer as a “diplomat assigned to the US Embassy in Islamabad”. Overnight and without any explanation, a member of the staff at the Lahore consulate became a diplomat at the Islamabad embassy.

A third press release then made another change - or refinement. It describes the first killer not as a diplomat but as a member of the “technical and administrative staff” of the embassy.

This is also not correct. A person does not become a member of the “technical and administrative staff” of an embassy just because the embassy claims that status for him; or because he holds a diplomatic passport; or because a visa, even an official visa, has been issued to him on such a passport. He becomes a member of the staff of an embassy only if it notifies to foreign ministry of the receiving state (ie the host country), in accordance with Article 10 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, that he has been assigned that position. There is no mention in any of the press releases that such a notification was issued.

The reason why a consular employee mutated overnight into a member of the embassy’s staff is obvious: A member of the technical and administrative staff of the embassy enjoys full immunity from local criminal jurisdiction under Article 38 of the Convention on Diplomatic Relations and cannot be lawfully arrested or detained, while a consular employee enjoys no such privilege under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which governs consular missions. As regards liability to criminal jurisdiction, he is in the same position as a citizen of Pakistan and can be proceeded against, tried and punished for criminal acts in the same way as a Pakistani.

The claim made by the US embassy on his behalf that that he acted in self-defence is also of dubious validity. It is not enough, as the embassy states in its press release, that there were armed men who he had every reason to believe “meant him bodily harm”. It will have to be established that they were targeting him, that he was in grave danger and that the shooting was not an excessive response. The burden of proving all this will rest on him.

So far, at least as far as public statements are concerned, the Pakistan government has refused to bow to the US demand for giving immunity to the killer. But our past record, and not simply that of the present government, is not reassuring. One example is the surrender to the Americans of Aimal Kasi by Nawaz Sharif in 1997 during his second term as prime minister without fulfilling the legal requirements, simply upon a phone call from the then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Rehman Malik said in the National Assembly: “This is Pakistan... The law will take its course.” That is precisely the problem. Our leaders say one thing for public consumption in Pakistan and quite another thing privately to the Americans. And then they do as promised to the Americans. Gilani’s famous conversation with the US Ambassador in 2009 on drone attacks is just one example.

True to his record, Gilani once again has been trying to run away from his responsibility in this matter. He told a press conference that since the matter was in the court and the Punjab government was conducting an inquiry into it, he would not comment on it. Gilani is right that the investigations have to be conducted by the Punjab Government and that the courts have to take a decision on the criminal liability of Davis. But it is for the foreign ministry (ie the federal government) to make a determination whether the killer is a member of staff of the embassy or of the Lahore consulate, the central issue upon which his immunity depends.

Clearly, heavy pressure is being exerted on Pakistan to let him go scot-free. It may be the US is not concerned only about the welfare of one of its nationals but, more important, it fears that a trial of the killers might bring into public knowledge some unsavoury facts about the activities of US security companies and US officials (spies?) in Pakistan. The first killer was certainly no diplomat in the conventional sense. According to the ABC News and The Huffington Post, he was an employee of a fly-by-night private security company, a small-bore version of the more famous Blackwater. He certainly acted in a cold-blooded manner. After he had shot his victims in the back, he pumped some more bullets into their bodies as they lay on the ground.

Even more outrageous than the misrepresentation of the first killer’s status is the complete silence of the US embassy on the motorcyclist who was crushed to death by the second killer. It was not just an accident or a hit-and-run offense but an act of recklessness showing complete disregard for the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. Anyone who breaks a road barrier and drives in the wrong direction on a one-way street bears full responsibility for the consequences and if a death results he is as culpable as a person who shoots his victim dead.

The US embassy has not offered even one word of regret or sympathy for this killing. They have even refused so far to identify the killer despite the repeated requests of the police. It is to be suspected that an attempt will be made to whisk him away, if he has not left the country already.

Pakistan must make a demarche immediately that if that happens all those members of the embassy and the Lahore consulate who are complicit will be asked to pack up and leave the country.

What happened in Lahore last Thursday was not an accident. It was a disaster waiting to happen, given the impunity with which we have allowed US diplomats and “security guards” to violate our laws. They behave as if they have a license to kill. We have given them tacit permission to carry unauthorised weapons, travel in vehicles with darkened windows and false number plates and even to threaten our police when they ask them to submit to security checks. There are killers on the loose on the streets of Pakistan masquerading as diplomats. They will become even bolder if we fail to bring the Lahore killers to justice.



The writer is a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email: asif ezdi@yahoo.com
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