The South Asia Channel

Equality in the eyes of the law in Pakistan

It seemed to be simple case of shooting in self-defense in a busy street in Lahore, after being threatened at gunpoint by robbers. The twists in the narrative, however, have made it into a front-page story here in Pakistan. The person who killed the two men, Faizan and Faheem, was Raymond Davis, a U.S. citizen ...

RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images

It seemed to be simple case of shooting in self-defense in a busy street in Lahore, after being threatened at gunpoint by robbers. The twists in the narrative, however, have made it into a front-page story here in Pakistan. The person who killed the two men, Faizan and Faheem, was Raymond Davis, a U.S. citizen and reportedly a member of the U.S. Embassy staff. And when Davis called the U.S consulate in Lahore for help, a staff member allegedly killed another person, Ubaid ur Rehman, in a hit-and-run accident after speeding down on the wrong side of the road in an attempt to reach Davis.

Davis has been arrested, and is in police custody in Lahore. Pakistani authorities, eager to stake their claims about the sovereignty of the Pakistani nation and the rule of law, have vowed to not hand over Davis until an investigation into the matter is completed. Members of political and religious parties have urged the government not to release Davis, while anonymous text messages have circulated asking the government to swap Davis for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in an American court last fall for attempting to murder her U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan.

The Davis incident brings up many questions. Firstly, who IS Raymond Davis? Reports are still mixed. According to ABC News, Davis is a private security officer. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad calls Davis a "diplomat". The truth is anyone’s guess.

The U.S Embassy says Davis was "assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, has a U.S. diplomatic passport and Pakistani visa valid until June 2012." They have called for his release, saying that as a diplomat, Davis has immunity under the Vienna Convention. But on Sunday night, Dawn News, a local Urdu channel, broadcast what it says are images of Davis’ passport — which did not have a diplomatic visa.

The Davis incident has already added fuel to the fire that is known as U.S.-Pakistan relations. In a country where the U.S. enjoys very little popularity, an incident of a "diplomat" shooting two Pakistanis, whether they were robbers or not, has helped fuel anti-U.S. sentiment. At a protest, organized in Karachi by Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious party, hundreds of protestors condemned the incident.

Local newspapers with right-wing, anti-American leanings, such as The Nation, ran headlines such as "‘American Rambo’ goes berserk in City", whereas Urdu newspaper columnists have urged that the law be allowed to take its course.

Others have asked questions about what Davis was doing in Pakistan, and why he tried fleeing the scene after the incident. Columnist Ejaz Haider asked, "Why did Davis try to run away from the scene after displaying the calm ability to shoot a pistol with a steady hand, get out of the car, make a video of the bodies, and talk to someone on the wireless?" The News’ Ansar Abbasi, a right-wing columnist with a strong anti-American streak, cited previous incidents of embassy officials in Pakistan involved in carrying weapons. The News also ran a story titled "How U.S. behaves when diplomats commit crimes."

As the tug-of-war continues between the U.S. and Pakistani governments over Davis’ immunity and whether he should be tried for murder or not, there is an urgent need for diplomacy and tact in this case. If Davis is not actually a diplomat, the U.S. Embassy should allow Pakistani law to take its course if it would like to improve its reputation in the country.

However, the issue, which has already been politicized, will take a nasty turn for the worse if Davis is indeed a diplomat, and enjoys diplomatic immunity in the case. Religious and political parties, aided by columnists and sections of the media with anti-U.S. slant, will blame the Pakistani government for ceding to the U.S. government’s demands, regardless of the facts of the case.

Secondly, it is ironic that religious and political parties are demanding justice in this case, and yet turn a blind eye to the injustices within Pakistan, and those blatantly and proudly flouting the rule of law. Mumtaz Qadri — who killed the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, in cold blood because of his support for changing Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws — has been lauded as a hero and defender of Islam, while Davis, who may have been acting in mere self-defense from potential robbers, is called a demon. If everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, political leaders in Pakistan need to remember to demand justice for anyone who takes the law into their own hands.

Huma Imtiaz works as a journalist in Pakistan and can be reached at huma.imtiaz@gmail.com.

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