by Mohammad Malick of Daily News Lahore.
When powerful men meet to discuss explosive issues, things can change in a big way. And that is precisely what happened after a highly secretive and immensely important meeting at the Presidency a few days back. The subject, not unexpectedly, being the fate of American killer Raymond Davis and that of Pakistan-US relations.
Little did anyone know at the time that the huddle would instead end up deciding the fate of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
The meeting, convened by the president was attended by Prime Minister Gilani, Babar Awan, Rehman Malik, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the DG ISI Gen Shuja Pasha. The president was given an exhaustive overview of the entire situation but quite early in the meeting it became evident that two of the men were standing on the wrong side of the prevalent dominant wisdom and desire of somehow finding a way to retrospectively cough up diplomatic immunity for Davis and to just wish away all the four deaths and the lingering crisis. But since one of the ‘erring’ two dared not be arbitrarily fired, poor Qureshi’s fate stood sealed.
Extreme pressure was exerted in the meeting on the former foreign minister to renege from his earlier stance and simply tell the court that the Foreign Office was in consonance with the American interpretation of Davis being a genuine diplomat and enjoying full immunity under Vienna Convention 1961. Facts be damned.
According to highly reliable sources, interior ministry’s immense resources were also offered to cause any necessary change of documentation or any exceptional service warranted under these exceptional circumstances.
An adamant Qureshi, who had strongly argued the case that Raymond did not enjoy unlimited diplomatic immunity under law, flatly refused and even said that if need be, he’d rather resign than become an accessory to multiple murder. The meeting ended on a rather unsavoury and unexpected note. It was a surprising outcome for all the others because Qureshi had always been perceived, and even pilloried by the media, as being an American lackey and was not expected to dig in his heels over an issue so vital for the US administration.
But Qureshi’s latest run in with the Americans did not begin or end inside the Presidency. It had actually begun much earlier on January 28, a day after the deadly Raymond Davis incident in Lahore. He was in Karachi when he first received a call from US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter and then had a conversation with US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Munter requested him for immediate councillor access to Davis and his immediate handover to US Consulate authorities. Qureshi asked Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir to talk to Munter and while authorising immediate councillor access to Davis made it clear to the foreign secretary that the matter of release would only be decided by the court as the legal process had already been kicked into motion in Punjab. Then came Hillary’s call.
An understandably perturbed Hillary wanted the immediate handover of Davis and insisted that Pakistan was violating the Vienna Convention by the illegal incarceration of a “US diplomat”. Confirming the contents of that conversation to The News, Shah Mehmood said that he had patiently explained to Hillary that while he understood her anxiety she too had to understand the highly emotive and sensitive nature of the incident. And also that since the judicial process had been kick-started in Lahore, the Foreign Office and the US had little option but to submit to the due process of law. Anyway, the two decided to discuss the matter on the sidelines of the then forthcoming Munich Security Conference, and the line went silent.
Since then, Ambassador Munter and other senior embassy officials remained busy with engaging Pakistani authorities and the Foreign Office, blowing hot or cold, depending upon the level of their own frustration and the pressure coming their way from Washington. A few days prior to the Munich Conference, Qureshi received a call from Ambassador Munter who said that he had been directed to convey the message that unless Qureshi signed the diplomatic immunity paper prior to the conference, the scheduled meeting between him and Hillary would stand cancelled. The message was starkly clear a la George Bush: You are either with us or against us. So be it, Qureshi is reported to have told the ambassador and even cancelled his trip altogether. The chief of the army staff went instead to Munich and that is an appointment that even the US secretary of state cannot cancel, Davis or no Davis.
Once Qureshi ignored the latest Hillary communique, the Americans stopped talking to him altogether because it had now become evident that Qureshi was not going to budge on his stance of Davis not being eligible for full diplomatic immunity. Qureshi was no longer a welcome dinner guest and neither could he be allowed to remain in office. The last thing Washington can afford is his having a Pakistani foreign minister with a reawakened conscience.
According to highly reliable sources, the next claimed scalp may be that of the equally intransigent (from American perspective), Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir who is now the only remaining top level hurdle in the apprehended shameless handover of Davis by a compromised political leadership. The foreign secretary is also of the considered firm view that Davis does not qualify for full immunity. And there are legitimate causes for this argument, which were further exposed by glaring inconsistencies in the forever changing US stance on the issue.
Owing to the paucity of space, irrefutable arguments proving Davis’ ineligibility are not being reproduced here and also because a lot has already been written on the legal aspects of the subject, including the highlighted fact that in the initial reaction by US authorities, Raymond Davis was identified as merely an “employee” of the US Consulate in Lahore, but never as a diplomat. He was referred to as an employee and not a consulate general official. “It was a simple clerical error” was the incredulous justification offered by two senior members of the Islamabad embassy in an off-the-record conversation with the scribe. But it gets even better.
A lot is being made by the Americans and their interlocutors of the January 20, 2010 communication of the Islamabad embassy wherein the FO had been asked for the issuance of a non-diplomatic identity card for Davis. It is being argued that this communication clearly identifies Raymond Davis as being administrative and technical staff of Islamabad embassy and therefore automatically eligible for diplomatic immunity. But this is only half the story.
Certain discrepancies in 2010 had already caused the Foreign Office to seek clarifications. In Sept 2009, the US State Department had originally identified him as technical advisor (contractor) going on “official business” while applying for his visa. Later he was attached to US Consulate Lahore as an employee. So when his name popped up again in January 2010, identifying him as being attached with the US Embassy Islamabad, the FO wanted answers to some very pertinent questions. The relevant FO officials repeatedly asked the US embassy to provide the details of Davis’ new responsibilities along with those of his past postings. When weeks had passed with the embassy avoiding a categorical clarification on this count, the FO finally sent a formal Note Verbale to the US embassy on July 8, 2010. It bore ref no: P(1-A)/2009-ID(USA). This note pertained to a total of ten Americans about whom similar details were being sought from the embassy but no response had been forthcoming from the US end. Davis was listed as Note No:252/HR. When FO authorities were asked about the presence of 2009 in the reference number of the note verbale otherwise sent on July 8, 2010, they clarified that it was perfectly in accordance with their internal filing sequence and did not reflect any anomaly.
Unable to cover this critical gap in their argument to secure Davis’ release on the afterthought alibi of diplomatic immunity, the US embassy has adopted the rather incredulous argument of denying outright the existence of this critical correspondence. The FO has been told at the highest level that the US embassy never received this Note Verbale. The two senior functionaries stuck to the denial mantra when asked by The News about the embassy’s refusal to divulge the real assignments and other details of Davis and nine others. They insisted that all the embassy records had been thoroughly checked but there was no evidence of the cited note verbale ever being received. When they were told that the July 8 note was present in FO records and its existence and its having been sent to US embassy was recorded in more than one place and constituted a process that could not be tampered with within hours of an event taking place, the duo took the reference number of the ‘missing note’ to ostensibly try locating it from their records. This raises an interesting question: if they still needed the reference number at this stage, then how did they even check their records earlier?
Can you name a single other incidence where prior to this particular note verbale or since, any note verbale sent by FO to the US embassy has ever gone missing? the two functionaries were asked. Not surprisingly, the duo could not cite a single such incidence.
Interesting coincidence one must say, where the entire US administration makes critical clerical errors which only expose Davis as being a non-diplomat. Another interesting coincidence again, when only one specific official communication out of hundreds of similar exchanges goes missing, and which once again stood to expose Raymond Davis for being anything but a legitimate diplomat on a legitimate diplomatic assignment.