Catch-22

The government is in a classic catch-22 situation. In Raymond Davis’ case it has very difficult options. The employee of the US consulate in Lahore had shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore, ostensibly in self-defence, an incident whose motives and details remain murky. The status of Raymond Davis is also far from clear. The US is seeking diplomatic immunity for him, but things have been complicated for the government — which may have been inclined to grant immunity to save its relations with the US — by the reaction of the right wing forces and now the suicide of the widow of one of the murdered Pakistanis.After weeks of rallies by religious outfits in support of the blasphemy laws, which are now gradually losing wind in the face of a firm denial by the government that any such move is afoot, releasing Raymond Davis may add fresh fuel to their reactionary agenda. They may view it as a golden opportunity to whip up anti-American sentiment among the public and pit them against the government. Currently, Davis is in the Punjab government’s custody and a court is hearing this case.This has not gone down well with the US, which has heightened efforts to get him released. US Ambassador Cameron Munter has met President Asif Ali Zardari and sought his release. To send a firm signal to Pakistan that it means business, the US has postponed all bilateral diplomatic contact till this happens. Already the implications of this impasse have started making themselves felt. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi postponed his visit to Munich, Germany, where he was scheduled to attend a security conference, because Pakistan has been informed that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton might not be able to meet him there because of this dispute. President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to the US next month too has been jeopardised because of this issue. If Pakistan fails to comply with the US’s wishes, its position will be compromised in the trilateral negotiations involving the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, painstaking diplomatic efforts by the US to reach out to the people of Pakistan and the ensuing strategic dialogue initiated last year are at risk. Moreover, various aid packages from the US, on which Pakistan is heavily dependent, are also in jeopardy.

It is not that Washington’s own interests would not be hurt by this impasse in relations. Pakistan is critical to the US’s involvement in Afghanistan. The likelihood is that Pakistan will take help from the court. The government will try to defuse the situation by creating a fait accompli. The Foreign Office may declare Raymond Davis a diplomat by presenting relevant documents in the court. If Raymond Davis is spirited away in this manner, this will ruffle quite a few feathers among the religious and other rightwing parties, which are keen to pounce upon any opportunity to create instability. However, so much is at stake for both Pakistan and the US that there is greater probability that they will retreat from the brink. In real life when David met Goliath, he won, but a client state like Pakistan does not have the option of standing up to the Goliath that the US is – Dailytimes