Raymond Davis, described by the State Department as “a US diplomat” affiliated with the Lahore consulate, is being held illegally in a Pakistani jail. Police are investigating Davis’s role in a January 27th shootout in which two Pakistanis were killed. The incident has angered the Pakistani people and put their government in an impossible position. With our alliance with Pakistan already strained by U.S. drone strikes, the Davis affair threatens to do further damage to Pakistan-U.S relations, and to destabilize the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.
Davis was driving a rented car in a dangerous part of Lahore when he was set upon by two hoodlums intent on robbing him. He told authorities he had just withdrawn cash from an ATM. A gun battle ensued and the two would-be robbers were fatally wounded.
Within minutes, an angry crowd had gathered at the scene of the shooting. According to Pakistani authorities, Mr. Davis, who had two cell phones and a Beretta pistol in his possession, called the embassy for help. A car was immediately dispatched to the scene to rescue Mr. Davis, but in the process of trying to reach him, the driver of the car ran over another Pakistani civilian on a motorcycle, killing him as well.
The car fled the scene without picking up Davis, who was arrested by Pakistani police and charged with murder.
Initial reports by Pakistani media sought to sensationalize the incident. The English language Dawn referred to the two robbers as “commuters.” They quoted an “eyewitness” who accused Mr. Davis of gunning down the robbers in cold blood. In truth, it appears that the robbers had held up another victim just minutes before their fatal encounter with Davis. Both men had criminal records as well.
This, and other reports, fueled an anti-American reaction that brought protesters into the streets and to pressure the government to keep Davis in jail, despite pleas from the State Department to release him because his status as a diplomat gives him immunity.
The plea has fallen on deaf ears.The Pakistanis are challenging the status of Davis as a diplomat. Indeed, Mr. Davis seems to fall into a gray area of international law. He is identified as a “technical advisor” to the consulate and owns a security consulting business in Florida. The Pakistanis insist this makes him a civilian subject to local justice.
But the consulate claims he has diplomatic status as a member of the “administrative and technical staff.” The State Department refuses to clarify Mr. Davis’s position at the consulate, which has deepened the mystery that surrounds the American.
Davis appeared in court on Friday without legal representation or even a translator to help him understand the proceedings. This proved to be too much for the State Department who blasted the Pakistani government, accusing them of not giving Davis a “fair hearing.”
The embassy in Islamabad issued another statement where they “reiterated to the Government of Pakistan today that his continued detention is a gross violation of international law,” and that Davis “is entitled to full criminal immunity and cannot be lawfully arrested or detained.”
The entreaties failed to make a dent. The Pakistani court ruled that Davis must remain incarcerated for another 8 days while the police investigate the matter further. Police sources have already admitted that the incident appears to be a cut and dried case of self-defense. The windows on Davis’s car were shot out and a gun was found lying next to one of the dead robbers.
But the Pakistani people are unconvinced. The families of the victims want Davis brought up on terrorism charges and news about the incident has been on the front pages for a week. Opposition politicians are demanding that Davis be tried for murder and there have been several protests at the jail where Davis is being held.