ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari has turned down a demand by US congressmen to hand over Raymond Davis, the American national who killed two people in Lahore on Thursday.
According to sources, President Zardari came under immense pressure on Monday when a six-member delegation of US congressmen called on him and sought diplomatic immunity for the arrested US national and said he should be handed over to the US government forthwith.
The president reiterated the stance expressed earlier by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif that the matter would be decided by court.
The 45-minute meeting revolved around Raymond Davis, whose visa status is yet to be ascertained.
The US embassy insists that he is its official or a member of its technical staff, thus enjoying diplomatic immunity, but details of his passport revealed by the media say otherwise.
According to the president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar, Mr Zardari told the US delegation that he appreciated their concern, but the matter was already before the courts.
“It will be prudent to wait for the legal course to be completed.”
The sources said the issue was raised at the start of the meeting and then the president touched other matters. However, the US delegation again came to the issue and the meeting continued to discuss it for a long time.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said: “The federal government is not putting any pressure to hand over Raymond Davis to America.”
Some observers are of the view that the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which heads the coalition government in Punjab, has taken a stiffer stand on the issue to get political mileage. This has made it difficult for the federal government to act leniently.
They say the situation could become more complex for the president and the federal government if the courts reject diplomatic status of the US national and treat him like an ordinary foreigner.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told a TV channel: “Once the status of Raymond Davis is confirmed the government will take action accordingly.”
“Matters relating to Pakistan-US relations, mutual cooperation, the fight against militancy, reconstruction opportunity zones and the security situation in the region, among other related issues, were discussed during the meeting,” the president’s spokesman said.
President Zardari highlighted the economic situation of the country and focused upon the need for US support to Pakistan in pleading its case for assistance and market access before the international community.
“Ours is a war-ravaged and flood-stricken economy and our people need priority attention and assistance to overcome financial difficulties.
“Our priority is trade, and not aid. We need preferential market access to support our economy against the dire impact of the ongoing struggle against militancy on one hand, and to rehabilitate and reconstruct infrastructure damaged by devastating floods on the other,” he said.
The president said a long-term and stable equation marked by close collaboration and multidimensional cooperation between the two countries guaranteed not only development of the country but also peace and stability of the region.
The members of the delegation praised the country’s struggle against militancy and promised continued US support in this regard to the people and government of Pakistan.
President Asif Zardari reiterated his call for expediting the ROZs legislation to create economic opportunities in areas ravaged by militancy.
He said Pakistan had an abiding interest in a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan and it firmly believed in neutrality and non-interference in the internal affairs of the country.
Pakistan, the president said, would continue to support all efforts for sustainable peace, stability and development in Afghanistan.