Neighbours and relatives gather around the body of Faizan Haider who was killed in a shoot-out, at his home in Lahore. – Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: In a clear about-turn on the status of the American charged with murder of two motorcyclists in Lahore, the United States on Saturday claimed that the accused was a diplomat and demanded his immediate release.

“The diplomat, assigned to the US Embassy in Islamabad, has a US diplomatic passport and Pakistani visa valid until June 2012,” a terse statement by the embassy said.

It went on to accuse Islamabad of being in violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. The Foreign Office reacted sharply to the embassy statement, counselling respect for the legal course.

The exchange was a pointer to an evolving diplomatic crisis between Islamabad and Washington.

The latest American statement was indubitably different from the one released by the embassy on Friday describing the accused Raymond Davis as “a staff member of the US Consulate General in Lahore”, which though ambiguous, but was clearly short of declaring him as a diplomat.

More importantly, the Friday statement had come at a time when media was discussing the status of the accused and was taken by many as a corroboration of the claims that Davis wasn’t a diplomat and hence had no diplomatic immunity.

The latest (Saturday) media release came a day after hectic diplomatic activity apparently failed to yield any result.

The Foreign Office looks to have also hardened its stance on the matter. Spokesman Abdul Basit called for respecting the legal process.

“This matter is sub judice and the legal process should be respected,” he emphasised in a message evidently directed at the Americans.

Mr Davis is being described by the American media as a security contractor from a Florida-based firm, Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC.

That Foreign Office and the US embassy were not on the same page on the issue of status of the accused was obvious from an FO press release that mentioned Davis as a US ‘functionary’, and not a diplomat.

The latest U-turn in American position clearly fits in with the business principles of Hyperion Protective Consultants.

Their website says that the personnel provided to the customer (US State Department in this case) are hired as the customer’s employees. As such the “legal liabilities reside with the business contracting the service”.

The US embassy statement set aside all diplomatese and not only accused the host government of ‘unlawfully detaining’ its ‘diplomat’, but criticised the remand of the accused given by a judicial magistrate.

“Furthermore, the diplomat was formally arrested and remanded into custody, which is a violation of international norms and the Vienna Convention, to which Pakistan is a signatory,” the embassy statement noted.

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