For once the mobs in Cairo have overshadowed the protesters in Lahore. Pakistan's second-largest city and the capital of Punjab Province has been the site of outsized anti-American demonstrations since the Jan. 27 detention of a U.S. diplomat named Raymond Davis. Davis stands accused of killing two Pakistanis he says attempted to rob him. Punjab authorities want to try Davis in their courts but the State Department, pointing out that Davis was granted a diplomatic visa by Pakistan's foreign ministry, claims he is immune from prosecution and should be released.
Punjab is a restive place. Lahore, once the seat of Pakistani intellectual and cultural life, is now a hub of Taliban-led bombing attacks. Asia Bibi, the Christian mother accused and sentenced to death for blasphemy, is in jail there. And when provincial governor Salman Taseer took her side, he was assassinated in December by one of his own bodyguards (see "Clash of civilizations," Jan. 29).
So it's not surprising that there's more than meets the eye in the Raymond Davis case. Davis, 36, was driving alone in Lahore on Jan. 27 in a privately rented vehicle when two men on motorbikes tried to rob him at gunpoint. Carrying a loaded gun himself, Davis says he shot them in self-defense-one four times and the other twice, according to autopsy reports. Then a U.S. consular vehicle on its way to the scene hit and killed another Pakistani.
This is bad enough, but Davis' role with the U.S. government hasn't been made clear: One report said he worked for the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, another that he was on contract with the U.S. Defense Department or with a U.S. security firm, like the infamous Blackwater (now Xe Services) whose employees killed Iraqi civilians in controversial shootings in Baghdad that led to the company losing its license to work there. The Pakistani press has concluded Davis works for the CIA.
Davis' victims, meanwhile, also may have been intelligence operatives, according to a story in Pakistan's Express Tribune. Then on Feb. 7, the widow of one of Davis' victims allegedly poisoned herself and died in a hospital, telling her doctors she planned to kill herself because "I do not expect any justice from this government."
Everyone connected with this case seems to think the less said about it the better. For Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, the case creates yet another complicating factor in Pakistani-U.S. relations. State Department and embassy spokesmen have been terse in statements on Davis-at one point they could not agree on his actual name-suggesting he's a mere functionary, while also one deserving diplomatic immunity.
At the same time, two congressional delegations-one led by California Republican Darrell Issa and another of House Armed Services committee members from both parties--traveled to Pakistan to meet with Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to press for Davis' release. When I contacted Congressman Issa's office, spokesman Kurt Bardella didn't want to talk about it much, either. Asked why Issa intervened, Bardella said the "issue came up" during the congressman's trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. Has Issa followed up with the State Department or other U.S. officials regarding the case since his return? "No." What should happen in the case? "International law should apply." Does that mean Davis should be granted diplomatic immunity or tried in a Pakistani court? "International law should apply," Bardella repeated.
U.S. diplomats and politicians apparently hope the Davis case will drop from public view while they parse with Pakistanis the meaning of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity. But with the Muslim world tilting at its authoritarian axis, this is the wrong time for Americans living and working in the Muslim world to be getting away with murder. And the wrong time for the U.S. government to be seen undermining justice and due process. It's the right time for public diplomacy, for what the Obama administration likes to tell Wall Street and Congress to embrace-"transparency and accountability."
Email Mindy Belz