If the American consular employee who shot dead two Pakistanis last Thursday gets immunity, it could make it harder for Pakistan’s weak civilian government to sell closer cooperation with America on its battle against militants to the Pakistani people, analysts here warn.
“If he actually walks away, people will demand answers. The ability of the government to sell US-backed policies to the people will become eroded,” says Ejaz Haider, a columnist in Pakistan.
Much is still unclear surrounding the shooting and the next steps. Here's what is known and what it could mean:
What exactly happened?
A US consulate employee shot dead two Pakistanis on a motorcycle from his car last Thursday in a crowed part of the city. A third man was later killed in a hit and run when a US consulate car, reportedly sped down the wrong side of the road on its way to aid the American. The US employee reportedly told Pakistan police that he was acting in self-defense and that the men, who were armed, had tried to rob him after taking out money from an ATM.
The US consulate employee remains in Pakistani custody. He is charged with two counts of murder and of possessing an illegal firearm.
Who is the US consulate employee?
While US authorities have refrained from naming the employee, or expounding on his role in the Lahore consulate, Pakistani police say he identified himself to them as Raymond Davis, a “technical adviser” to the US government.
According to the Dawn newspaper, Mr. Davis has visited the country nine times and his last visa was issued in June for two years.
There has been much speculation over the nature of Davis's position, with some reports in the Pakistani media declaring him to be an employee of a private Florida-based security firm, Hyperion Protective Consultants, possibly involved in intelligence gathering.
Davis’s use of what appears to have been an illegal semiautomatic firearm and his accurate aim while firing bullets through his windshield raises further questions as to the nature of his employment – questions that have yet to be answered by American authorities, Mr. Haider adds.
An editorial in the Daily Times, a liberal Pakistani newspaper, argued: “Instead of going around in circles, the US should come clean on Davis’s real identity and his position at the US consulate. The US must realize that Pakistan is its frontline ally in the war against terror but that does not mean it can allow American nationals to violate the law of the land.”
Immediately following news of the shooting last week, Pakistani news channels reported that more than 100 people blocked the road where the incident took place and set tires on fire in protest.
Then Sunday, 15,000 members of religious political parties held a street rally in Lahore to protest the deaths.
On Monday night, President Asif Ali Zardari told visiting US lawmakers that courts should decide the fate of the employee. "“It would be prudent to wait for the legal course to be completed,” Zardari’s office quoted him as saying.
Such tough statements by Pakistani politicians may point to a looming standoff between the US and Pakistan over the issue.
Pakistani outrage can be understood by "reversing" the situation, says Haider. “Let’s assume a Pakistani diplomat was carrying an illegal firearm in Manhattan and shoots two men, and a backup vehicle comes to his aid, which killed another American. How would the people of the United States have behaved?”
Can the US official be tried in Pakistan's court system?
On Sunday, the US embassy released a statement asserting that the consular employee was protected under Article 37 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which extends the same criminal immunity that diplomats have to members of the “technical and administrative staff.”
Pakistani authorities, meanwhile, claim he did not have diplomatic immunity and was not one of the foreign security personnel allowed to carry firearms. Dawn newspaper said it had documents proving that Davis entered Pakistan last June on a nondiplomatic visa.
Pakistani officials have refused to hand Davis back. According to Agence France-Presse, a court petition filed by a Lahore-based lawyer Monday demanded that Davis remain in Pakistan to stand trial, citing Article 41 of the Vienna Convention, which states: “Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.”
Senior police officer Zulfiqar Hameed, in charge of the investigation, says that the two men on the motorcycle, identified as "Faizan Haider" and "Fahim," had previous criminal records and that eyewitnesses at the scene of the crime believed the men had been attempting to rob Davis.
Pakistani law, however, permits only the minimal use of force in self-defense, he says.
Initial autopsy reports suggesting both men were shot multiple times in the back weakens Davis’s argument of self-defense, says Haider.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, there had been some speculation that Pakistani officials would allow some time to pass before quietly handing the employee back to the US. Now, however, the question of repatriation has become "politically very risky," according to Badar Alam, editor of Herald magazine.
"It could result in some very serious consequences to a government that is barely hanging on," he says. Were the government eventually pressured enough to act, it would require the consent of the provincial government of Punjab, which is ruled by the right-of-center PML-N party, viewed with suspicion by the US.