Raymond Davis should have diplomatic immunity, says Barack Obama in first comment on controversy.
Senator John Kerry, the former US presidential candidate, is holding high-level meetings in Pakistan in an attempt to defuse a diplomatic crisis involving a US embassy worker who shot dead two Pakistanis last month.
Kerry has scheduled talks with the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, and the head of the army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, over the case of Raymond Davis, which has pushed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan to fever pitch.
Thousands have rallied against Davis, demanding he be hanged, while the Taliban has threatened attacks against any Pakistani official involved in freeing the 36-year-old who was detained on 27 January after the shootings in Lahore. He claimed he was acting in self-defence when the men tried to rob him.
Ahead of today’s discussions, Kerry expressed regret over the deaths and promised that Davis would face a US criminal investigation if he were to be released by the Pakistani government.
“It is customary in an incident like this for our government to conduct a criminal investigation. That is our law. And I can give you the full assurance of our government today that that will take place,” Kerry told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore. “So there is no such thing as a suggestion that something is out of law or that America thinks somehow we’re not subject to the law.”
President Barack Obama has insisted Davis be freed, saying the principle of diplomatic immunity must be upheld.
“If it starts being fair game on our ambassadors around the world, including in dangerous places where we may have differences with those governments … that’s untenable,” Obama told a news conference, his first public remarks on the case. “It means they can’t do their job and that’s why we respect these conventions and every country should, as well.”
But the Pakistani government faces enormous public pressure to put Davis on trial in Pakistan.
Imdad Sabir, a schoolteacher in Lahore, said Pakistan’s integrity was at stake. “If our rulers give him to the United States, Pakistan will come out on to the streets and protest as people did in Egypt,” he said.
Washington insists Davis’s detention is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats because he is a member of US embassy staff.
American officials have begun curbing diplomatic contacts and threatening to cut off billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan if he is not freed.
Pakistani officials are divided on whether Davis, a former Special Forces soldier who runs an American “protective services” company with his wife, does have diplomatic immunity. A Pakistani federal government official said most experts in Pakistan’s legal and foreign offices believed Davis to be immune from prosecution.
But the former foreign minister said his former legal advisers had told him Davis did not qualify for blanket diplomatic immunity. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who stepped down earlier this month during a cabinet shake-up, told journalists that, if he was summoned, he would testify that his advisers had informed him Davis may not have full immunity. “God willing, I will side with the truth,” he said. “I will never disappoint the nation.”
Pakistani leaders are trying to duck the issue and have said the matter is up to the courts to decide. Ties between the US and Pakistan are already strained because US unmanned drone strikes on the Afghan border are seen by Pakistanis as a violation of their sovereignty.