Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kerry, Obama play good cop-bad cop to free 'diplomat' Davis from Pak clutches

The Times of India

WASHINGTON: Some muscular coercion, a muffled apology, and an additional few hundred million dollars in aid appears to have paved way for a resolution between United States and Pakistan of the Raymond Davis affair that is threatening to derail ties between the mutually mistrustful allies.

The modalities of how Davis, the "Diplomat," will be freed are being worked out even as the two sides prepare to face the sulfurous fallout from the episode. The Pakistani street is expected to erupt in protest against release of former special forces agent accused of killing two Pakistanis suspected of being ISI tails.

The big question haunting Washington and Islamabad is whether the outburst will assume the proportions of the upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt and consume the weak government in Islamabad, bringing to power Islamist forces and jeopardizing US operations in Afghanistan.

The US is expected to argue its case for Davis' immunity and release at a hearing Thursday at the Lahore High Court, after the Pakistani government formally indicated on Tuesday that it had determined he enjoyed diplomatic protection, a ruling Islamabad avoided making for fear of public backlash.

The Pakistani softening came after US President Barack Obama and Democratic Senator John Kerry played the good cop-bad cop routine on a drama-filled Tuesday. In a White House press conference, Obama left no doubt that the US will use every instrument of power and pressure to force Islamabad to release Davis, who he described as "our diplomat in Pakistan."

"We've got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future, and that is if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country's local prosecution. We respect it with respect to diplomats who are here. We expect Pakistan, that's a signatory and recognize Mr. Davis as a diplomat, to abide by the same convention," Obama declared in a stern admonition, after weeks of Pakistani gamesmanship on the matter.

Asked "how serious have your threats been to the Pakistani government if they don't hand him over," Obama responded "Well, I'm not going to discuss the specific exchanges that we've had. But we've been very firm about this being an important priority." It was President Obama's first comment on the matter.

Around the same time as Obama's forbidding ultimatum, US Senator John Kerry rushed to Lahore with a more placatory approach, expressing sorrow and regret about the loss of Pakistani lives in the incident and promising an investigation into the Davis incident even after he is returned to the US.

"We cannot allow one incident to break apart a much stronger bond that deals with millions of people in Pakistan, for whom we want to try to help build energy projects, new jobs, decent homes, education and healthcare," Kerry, who has engineered vast amounts of US aid to Pakistan, told reporters in Lahore.

Obama too was conciliatory to a degree, saying "We're concerned about the loss of life. We're not callous about that," but insisting "there's a broader principle at stake that I think we have to uphold" while referring to the Vienna Conventions. He repeatedly described Davis as a diplomat, although U.S and Pakistani accounts say he is a former special forces officer who went into the security business and became a member of the US mission's "administrative and technical" staff.

The twin Obama-Kerry moves were accompanied by well-publicized disclosure from the 2011 budget documents that the U.S was cranking up its aid to Pakistan to over $ 3 billion in the coming year, which would make it among the largest recipients of U.S foreign aid almost on par with Israel.

Kerry is expected to meet Pakistan's President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and Army Chief Kayani on Wednesday to argue on behalf of Davis and seek a resolution to the dispute.

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