Saturday, February 19, 2011

Strain in US-Pakistan Relations Over Diplomat Issue

There has never been such a great strain in US-Pakistan relations as it is now. Though Pakistani people have vent their ire against the United States on several occasions earlier, all governments in that country continued to wag their tail to the United States. That is why the United States never felt the need either to threaten Islamabad, or initiate any diplomatic action against it.

For once, however, because of a US citizen Raymond Davis, the United States appears to be greatly annoyed. This occurred on 27 January when he shot two Pakistanis dead in Lahore. He maintains that the two Pakistanis were following him on a bike, and wanted to waylay him by threatening him with a gun. Therefore, he fired upon them in self-defence. The American was arrested. The car belonging to the US Embassy speeded up and killed another Pakistani in an attempt to save him. This led to a hue and cry in the country, and slogans like "Death to the Killers" began to be raised. The widow of one of the persons killed committed suicide. This incident added fuel to the fire.

Firefighting Operations
The US Embassy commenced firefighting operations. For the first couple of days, it did not divulge the name of its citizen, implying that he is not a regular diplomat and could be a spy. Names of spies are kept secret. Fake names are also given to them. After his arrest, the American was produced before a Lahore court. If he was not a diplomat, his prosecution in the Lahore court was justified fully.

Yet, no sooner than the United States awoke from slumber, it began to raise the bogey that the American was no ordinary employee in the Embassy, but held the status of a diplomat, implying that his arrest was violative of the international convention. True that foreign diplomats enjoy immunity all over the world. All countries are signatories to the Vienna Convention in this regard. Yet, former Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi became adamant. Records in his ministry checked whether the American is a diplomat, and whether he enjoys such immunity. He found that the American was no diplomat and cannot be granted any immunity, and can be proceeded against in a court of law in the country. Because of this, Qureshi had to lose the foreign minister's post.

US Economic Aid
Qureshi used to claim to be very close to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yet, last week, Hillary did not even exchanged any pleasantly with him at Munich, though she did talk to Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani who was sitting beside Qureshi. Truly, if the master gets annoyed, how can an employee continue to be in employment? In fact, Qureshi was under the misconception that Pakistan is a sovereign country, and he the foreign minister of that country.

The American continue to be in custody, the United States has taken to twisting Pakistan's arm. A delegation of US Congressmen has categorically told President Asif Ali Zardari that if it fails to release the American, Pakistan may have to lose the annual US aid of $1.5 billion. The US Department of State has boycotted the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. As if it was not enough, the tripartite meeting between the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, scheduled to be held in February, has been postponed. The meeting was to be attended by President Barack Obama, Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari. The United States has never before adopted such a strong stance against Pakistan. In fact, the US media has highlighted the issue more than it deserved. US citizens are wondering how the very same country that eats out of the crumbs fallen from their table can commit such a blunder.

Anti-US Wave
Meanwhile, the anti-US wave among the masses in Pakistan was already at its peak. All Islamic elements have now begun to talk louder, and are asking why the Zardari government is tolerating the unwarranted US attitude. They wonder if a Pakistani employee had killed two or three Americans in New York, would Americans spare him? Had that person been a Pakistani diplomat, he would not have been spared even then. In 1997, an American girl was crushed under the wheels of the car of Georgia's Deputy Ambassador. The US administration got his diplomatic status withdrawn, and was arrested. The US administration can go to any length to get the American released.

On the US dispute, the Zardari government appears to be on the horns of a dilemma. On one side is its bread earner and on the other are Pakistani voters. The government is caught in a vice grip. The government is passing the buck to Qureshi. It is, however, to difficult to come out of this blind alley. If the court is presented with evidence that the American is a diplomat, it would release him and the Zardari government would be saved.

Withdrawal of US Troops From Afghanistan
Should the issue get prolonged, it would not only escalate tension between the United States and Pakistan, but may also adversely affect India-Pakistan relations, and even the situation in Afghanistan. India-Pakistan dialogue has been resumed under the US pressure. How ridiculous would it be for India to continue to talk to Pakistan, but the United States continues to shun Pakistan? At the same time, all schemes for withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan may fall into doldrums.

The sympathies of Pakistani people toward Taliban and Al-Qa'ida would continue to increase, and whatever popularity the Zardari government has may vanish. US policymakers would have to weigh what is more important -- its own interests or the special rights of a mere employee? If the United States so desires, it can use Pakistani courts so cunningly and craftily that the desired target is achieved without causing harm to anyone. US-Pakistan tension is not in favor of any country.

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