The controversy surrounding the alleged shooting of two Pakistani men by an American man in Lahore, Pakistan quickly begot a diplomatic war of words. Now, with officials from both countries holding fast to their version of events and to their positions, the fallout is threatening to push an already uneasy alliance towards a full scale crisis.
On Jan. 27, an American named Raymond Davis allegedly shot and killed two men who were following him on motorcycles in a lower middle class part of Lahore. That’s pretty much where agreement ends.
Shortly after the incident Davis was arrested by Pakistani police. He remains in Pakistani custody, with Pakistani officials insisting that he should be tried in the country. The U.S. counters that Davis, as a diplomat, is immune from prosecution, and is thus being “unlawfully detained” by Pakistani authorities. U.S. officials haven’t said much about Davis - only that he is a “member of the technical and administrative staff” of the embassy in Islamabad, but ABC News reports that he has a background with U.S. Special Forces and runs Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, “a company that provides ‘loss and risk management professionals.’” Two days after the incident, the embassy in Lahore released a statement calling the shooting self defense, accusing Pakistani authorities of violating the Vienna Convention, which governs the countries’ diplomatic relations:
On January 27, the diplomat acted in self-defense when confronted by two armed men on motorcycles. The diplomat had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm. Minutes earlier, the two men, who had criminal backgrounds, had robbed money and valuables at gunpoint from a Pakistani citizen in the same area.
But Pakistani officials told ABC a different story. Four anonymous officials said that the men Davis allegedly killed worked for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and had been sent to track the American.
In late January, those officials say, Davis was asked to leave an area of Lahore restricted by the military. His cell phone was tracked, said one government official, and some of his calls were made to the Waziristan tribal areas, where the Pakistani Taliban and a dozen other militant groups have a safe haven. Pakistani intelligence officials saw him as a threat who was “encroaching on their turf,” the official said.
Complicating matters is the fact that a third Pakistani man was killed by a U.S. consulate vehicle on its way to assist Davis after the shooting. And further inflaming tensions, the wife of one of the men allegedly killed by Davis committed suicide on Sunday. Before she died, she gave an interview to television reporters in which she said “I do not expect any justice from this government” and called for “blood for blood.”
Sources close to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari told ABC that the White House has threatened to shut down U.S. consulates in Pakistan and postpone upcoming talks on Afghanistan. Two U.S. officials, meanwhile, said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton canceled a meeting last week with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Al Jazeera reports that U.S. lawmakers who visited Pakistan this week have even suggested that aid to the country could be cut off over the incident.
“It is imperative that they release [Davis] and there is certainly the possibility that there would be repercussions if they don’t,” Rep. John Kline (R-MN) said.
U.S. officials told ABC News they believe Davis is being held for political reasons, and Pakistani officials acknowledged that releasing him could spark protests.
He is being held in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, where Zardari’s chief political opposition controls the provincial assembly. Some of the government’s political opponents — as well as some parts of the Pakistani media — benefit from stories that suggest U.S. contractors or spies operate throughout the country.
Davis appeared in court without a translator last Thursday, and Al Jazeera reports that prosecutors are looking into adding espionage charges to the case.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com