ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday acknowledged continuing differences with the United States in the case of a US official held for killing two Pakistanis, but voiced his confidence in the National Assembly the two sides would not let it hurt their ‘mutually beneficial partnership’. The prime minister pre-empted the opposition from questioning the government’s handling of the Jan 27 deadly shooting in Lahore involving a US consulate-general official, Raymond Davis, and rose to make a policy statement at the start of the lower house’s last session of its third parliamentary year, assuring it that his government would “not compromise on Pakistan’s sovereignty and dignity”.
But, speaking after chairing a joint meeting of the lawmakers of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and its allies, Mr Gilani, even 26 days after the incident, would not give out his government’s firm view about diplomatic immunity Washington wants for the official to spare him prosecution, prompting calls from two opposition figures to clear this ambiguity.
“There are differences of opinion between Pakistan and the United State in the case of Mr Davis on the issues of interpretation and applicability of international and national laws,” he said in the first clear acknowledgement at the highest level from the Pakistani side of a continuing row between the two allies. However, American officials have publicly spoken of differences about the case, in which police have accused Mr Davis of murder while the official says he feared two young motorcyclists shot dead by him had followed his car on a Lahore street to attack or rob him.
“This is because of ambiguity and inconsistency that is reflected in the available record,” the prime minister said about the differences, although US officials have said that the Vienna Conventions about the rights of diplomatic staff give Mr Davis the immunity from prosecution in Pakistan.
“We are mindful of our international obligations under the Vienna Conventions and other international legal instruments to which we are signatory,” Mr Gilani said. “Given the legal complexity of questions arising on the Davis case and mindful of its obligations regarding the interpretation and applicability of Pakistan’s obligations under international laws, the government has been careful, indeed responsible.”
Apparently trying to justify his government’s silence on the question of immunity, the prime minister quoted a portion of a Lahore High Court order of Feb 1 that said that “the matter of enjoying diplomatic status by the accused has neither arisen so far nor the same has been claimed on behalf of the accused persons” and that while investigation was going on, “if any matter on immunity arises in future that can be determined by the courts of law”.
Describing questions relating to the facts of the case and law as of “immense importance both under our national law and international law”, he said legal opinion “has been sought by the government”, without explaining from whom and when it would be available.
In remarks apparently directed at the critics of Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, he assured the house and the Pakistani people of “our firm resolve to adopt a course that fully accords with dictates of justice and the rule of law”.
And in some words of reassurance to Washington, the prime minister said: “As partner in peace and progress, people’s government in Pakistan and President (Barack) Obama’s administration (in the US) are working hard to build a long-term strategic relationship. I am confident both governments will not allow the Davis case to come in the way of this mutually beneficial partnership.”
While opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of Pakistan Muslim League-N was not present in the house apparently due to the recent death of his mother, the parliamentary leader of the rival Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Faisal Saleh Hayat, welcomed the prime minister’s move of “taking the house into confidence” at the start of the session but asked him “when will we know in clear-cut words” whether Mr Davis enjoyed diplomatic immunity or not.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whose party got seats on the opposition benches for the first time after withdrawing from the coalition government in December, also complained of ambiguity, which he said must be clarified by both the federal government and the provincial government of Punjab, whose police are handling the case.
Although the prime minister left the house with responding to the two opposition figures, Interior Minister Rehman Malik was quoted as saying later that Mr Davis possessed a diplomatic passport but his case would be decided by the court.
The official APP news agency quoted him as telling reporters outside the parliament house that Pakistan was signatory to “certain international laws protocols which cannot be violated” but saying that the court would decide the issue and requesting “everybody to stop politics on this sensitive issue for the sake of the country”.
The house passed a government bill to provide for the establishment of Shifa Tameer-i-Millat University at Islamabad, and deferred two other bills before Speaker Fehmida Mirza adjourned it until 10am on Tuesday.