How the Raymond Davis case could strain US-Pakistan ties even further
The gulf in how the US and Pakistan view the murder case against CIA operative Raymond Davis has the potential to make the diplomatic spat get even uglier.
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US experts in international relations, on the other hand, see the US standing up for international norms, and Pakistan flouting them. Given the gulf in how the two sides appear to be thinking about this, the issue has the potential to get uglier.
“Any other diplomat in the world that was in this position would have his or her government equally up in arms,” says Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at Georgetown University in Washington. “This is not American exceptionalism, this is the Vienna Convention.”
The Vienna Conventions spell out the details of diplomatic immunity. In broad terms, diplomats cannot be prosecuted under host country laws unless the home country waives their immunity. While the US has a history of declining some international treaties, in this case Washington appears to be championing a foundational rule of the international system.
“This is a context in which the US is very aggressively asserting international law, which is not the usual posture the US finds itself in,” says Peter Spiro, professor of international law at Temple Law School in Philadelphia. And, he adds, “it’s pretty clear the US is on the right side of the international law.”
Pakistan sees the case as anything but clear. Popular anger centers on a perception that Mr. Davis used excessive force in warding off two thieves, shooting them in their backs in January.
In legal terms, the nature of the incident matters little if Davis has diplomatic immunity. As Mr. Spiro puts it, diplomatic immunity is “absolute” and would even cover walking into a crowded hotel ballroom and opening fire.
There’s good reason for the rule, says Spiro. “One of the premises of diplomatic immunity is that there will be cases where diplomats won’t get a fair trial and they will become political footballs. And this [Davis] case clearly fits this trend.”
Shades of gray? What shades of gray?
More substantive critiques from Pakistani experts question Davis’s classification as a diplomat. Under the Vienna Conventions, there are different categories of employees, some with less immunity. These include low-level service workers and some workers attached to consulates as opposed to embassies.