Pakistan defiant in face of US pressure to free CIA agent
Raymond Davis’s immunity to be decided next month as PM asserts Pakistani sovereignty and dignity over murder case
“We are firmly resolved to adopt a course that accords with the dictates of justice and the rule of law … My government will not compromise on Pakistan’s sovereignty and dignity,” Yousaf Raza Gilani told parliament after receiving a phone appeal from the US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton.
The Obama administration is exerting pressure on Pakistan to release Davis, a 36-year-old former special forces soldier who shot dead two men during a murky confrontation in Lahore’s rush-hour traffic on 27 January. US officials say Davis is a “technical and administrative official” who enjoys immunity under the Vienna convention. Barack Obama called him “our diplomat in Pakistan”.
But President Asif Ali Zardari’s government, faced with a wave of public outrage, has prevaricated on the issue, and says it cannot decide on the immunity question until 14 March. For many Pakistanis the Davis case has come to represent their country’s difficult relationship with the US, in which multibillion dollar aid packages are mingled with covert activities targeting Islamist extremists.
In a leaked interrogation video aired on Pakistani television, the American identified himself as a “consultant” at the Lahore consulate. But the Guardian revealed on Sunday that he is a CIA agent, citing interviews in the US and Pakistan.
A number of US media outlets are also aware of his status but have kept quiet following representations from the American government.
Davis is on Pakistan’s “exit control list”, meaning he cannot leave the country without permission. However, two men who came to his rescue in a jeep that knocked over and killed a motorcyclist have already fled the country.
Davis claimed to be acting in self-defence, firing on a pair of suspected robbers. But eyebrows were raised when it emerged that he shot the men 10 times, including once as he fled the scene, and was carrying a telescope, a GPS set, bolt cutters, a survival kit, and a long-range radio at the time of his arrest.
Pakistani prosecutors said Davis used excessive force and charged him with two counts of murder and one of illegal possession of a Glock 9mm pistol. There have been claims that the dead men were working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, with orders to follow the American.
The ISI co-operates closely with the CIA in the American agency’s tribal belt drone programme, but resents US intelligence collection elsewhere in the country.
US efforts to have Davis released have focused on the issue of immunity, which has become tangled in a political and legal web. Noting the “legal complexities of the case”, Gilani stressed that Pakistan’s government would follow its international obligations but did not say whether it would offer immunity.
Meanwhile, authorities stressed the stringent measures they have put in place to protect Davis in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail, following angry rallies in which his effigy was burned and threats from extremist clerics.
Surveillance cameras are trained on his cell in an isolation wing, his guards have been disarmed and a ring of paramilitary Punjab rangers are posted outside. About 25 jihadi prisoners have been transferred to other facilities.
The furore over Davis has not stopped the controversial drone strike programme. On Sunday news emerged of a fresh attack on a militant target in south Waziristan, the first in nearly a month. Pakistani intelligence officials told the Associated Press that foreigners were among the dead, including three people from Turkmenistan and two Arabs.