Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cutting Through the Emotionalism

Can we just express how refreshing it was to watch Najam Sethi's first appearance on Geo tonight? In the middle of the hyperventilating cacophony surrounding the shooting to death of two men in Lahore by a contractor of the US embassy (and the death of a third in a hit and run accident apparently at the hands of an American consulate vehicle), Sethi began his new programme Aapas Ki Baat with the warning that he wanted to put emotionalism aside and analyse the incident only in terms of the facts. That in itself is an all too rare approach on our television screens these days. But what followed was close to a masterclass for other television anchors on how to impart clear, precise information with a logical, rather than emotional, analysis.

Not only did Sethi cite the actual clauses of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity (which Pakistan has ratified) that have been furiously talked about but never actually specifically referenced, but also put into context the whole issue in light of contemporary history and geopolitical realities. Now, others may question his interpretations of the Vienna Convention or the heretofore unknown 'facts' he presented as definite realities (we have no way of determining their veracity but he did stake his reputation on their authenticity), but I hope such challenges, if they do come, will be based on proof rather than vague emotionalism. His main contentions were:

1) Irrespective of a non-diplomatic visa (which seems to have become the main issue for some channels), a diplomatic passport - as the US claims the killer has - may still grant the man known as Raymond Allen Davis* diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention. [*This is assumed to be a fake name.]

2) The Vienna Convention actually grants immunity to diplomats (and their technical staff) from ALL criminal prosecution. No diplomat or foreign mission operative may be arrested by a host country, no matter what their crime (except in cases of property). (You may verify this from Clause 29-31 of the Convention.)

3) Since the American government has claimed diplomatic immunity for Davis, the Pakistan government must either accept their claim or the Pakistan Foreign Office - as the constitutional authority to decide such matters - must dispute this status. The courts are not the arbiters of the Vienna Convention under Pakistan's own constitution.

4) By claiming to leave the matter in the hands of the courts or the Punjab government, the Pakistan Foreign Office - and by extension the Federal government - is in violation of Pakistan's own constitution which details how issues of diplomatic immunity are to be handled. The Punjab police and Punjab government were wrong only to the extent that they should have referred the matter immediately to the US Consulate or the Pakistan Foreign Office before arresting Davis.

5) There are some 50-60 such contractors working for the US Embassy in Pakistan, who are all Blackwater-type operatives and whose job involves spying and ferreting out leads to trace Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Under a secret treaty signed by the military government of General Pervez Musharraf, a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) allows such operatives to work in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. The important thing to remember here is that the military and the intelligence agencies are fully on board about this and know full well the mandate of these operatives. (This claim by Sethi, if true, of course flies in the face of those who have recently been painting Pakistan ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani as the principal villain in granting visas to these operatives, as if such visas are not overseen and approved by the ISI. It also means that those who point out that the Vienna Convention applies only to the discharge of official duties by diplomats and that Davis could obviously not be on any official mission at Mozang Chowk in Lahore, could be countered by the simple assertion by the US Embassy that he was.)

6) In case the Pakistan Foreign Office does decide to dispute diplomatic immunity to Davis, it will probably have to bear the brunt of reciprocal action from the US for reneging on a bilateral / international treaty.

7) Even if diplomatic immunity is denied to Davis, he will most probably be acquitted by the courts since his plea of self-defence will be very strong. As evidence for this contention, Sethi cited his own information that the two men killed by Davis were indeed brandishing weapons, that they were actually shot in the chest or on the side (contrary to news reports of their being shot in the back) and the context of previous attacks on foreigners in Pakistan and the atmosphere of fear that they have created.

Incidentally, Sethi does not address the death of the third man who was run over but it bears recalling that Davis is not charged in that case and the US Consulate has refused to acknowledge that its vehicle was involved. Sethi was also at pains to clarify that he neither condoned Davis' actions nor that he supported such infiltration of secret American agents into Pakistan. In fact, he also condemned such commandos roaming freely around Pakistan under the guise of diplomatic cover. But the solidity of his programme rested on the fact that he was able to separate out a dispassionate analysis of a given situation from the patriotic impulse that seems to overtake our other television analysts.

This does not mean, in any sense, that this issue will not become a hot political issue, particularly serving as a lightning-rod for popular disaffection with American policy but also helping political actors from making opportunistic capital off it. Or that the Peoples Party government is not now stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sethi himself acknowledges this. But it is good to have more than just one side of the debate, particularly when that one side is often also misinformed.

For those who missed the programme, I am attaching the clips below. But first it might also be useful to see how another programme on the same channel, Aaj Kamran Khan Ke Saath, dealt with the issue, just in the previous hour, and which trotted out that doyenne of hyperventilation and hyper-patriotic confused thinking, Ms. Shireen Mazari, to make its point (the segment begins around 1:10 and ends around 11:30).

Don't miss how Ms. Mazari fudges the issue of diplomatic immunity by referring to a waiver in other cases (which obviously implies immunity). Remarkably this was not even the worst fudge of an analysis on our screens.

In stark contrast, here's the full Najam Sethi programme:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

I suppose kudos to Geo are also in order for finally bringing some rationality to their programming. See? It's not all that bad.


ayesha5 said...

I came up with the same analysis in my blog. However, if Davis is a consular level technical employee than he won't have immunity. But since, the US declared Davis to be a diplomat so in that case he will have blanket immunity.

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is reciprocal and Pakistan will have to respect it otherwise, as you said our diplomats in the US will suffer too.

Diplomatic immunity is kind of double edged sword. Over the years, several diplomats have been involved in serious crimes in the US and Congress' attempt to make changes to reciprocal immunity didn't yield any result.

It is one aspect of diplomacy with which every country has to live.

ayesha5 said...

Forgot to mention, I noticed the changing eyewitness' account as well as other evidence.

Maybe the media is up to something or perhaps someone else is trying to dictate the terms.

XYZ said...

@ayesha5: You wrote: "if Davis is a consular level technical employee than he won't have immunity."

Actually, if you read the Vienna Convention, even technical employees of a foreign mission have blanket immunity (as long as they are not host country citizens) as do administrative employees and all their families. I think I pointed this out in the post too.

Ayesha said...

@XYZ: I think you are confusing two treaties. One is Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations the other is Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the latter one doesn't give immunity to any of the officials in case of a 'grave crime' or 'serious crime'.

That is IF Davis is a consular level employee as it was intially reported. US, however, claims he's a diplomat.

AI said...

It was a better program than the usual Geo rants that we hear all the time, but the direction of the program was a little confusing. For example the point relating to Foreign Office and control of the Federal Government. Pseudo Analysts will pick up this point that the govt is an Amreeki Pithoo and hence it got Davis out.

Another aspect was to increase the fear level among the people. Are we not living with all sort of extremists amongst us? The American Agents, if there are and there must be, how different are they from the extremists trying to overshadow our daily lives.

Muneeb Farooq seemed a little like Shahid Masood, maybe trying to copy his style.

Tayyab Mahmood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maya said...

I didn't see the show. However, when one hears two of the most staunch and rational crtics of Paki media, Cafe Pyala and NFP praise this show, I am sure it was really good.

Thanks for the links. I am watching it now.

Anonymous said...

Kamran Shahid's show was lame compared to Bolta Pakistan. At the very least, he had two guests who were trying to stick to facts and Ms. Mazari resorting to jingoism. Fast forward 15 minutes into the Bolta Pakistan show and the fun starts.

Dost Mohammad said...

Was it not cafe Pyala which broke the news about Sethi and owners of Geo meeting at Pentagon or some where and told us that as Americans are pumping millions of $ to coffer of Geo and Americans want the Geo to take a softer line for them and build there image in Pakistan? And so they want Sethi & owners of Geo/Jang come together?
Well I think the millions of $ made available to Geo is being put to good use now to save Raymond Davis, or may be its a test of them that how would they sway the minds in Pakistan now, and seems they have swinged at least people behind Cafe Pyala, as they were first ranting against Geo but now find it suddenly very refreshing.
I for a matter of fact believe that particular "American" shall be freed asap but comon Pyala People you shall not stop from calling a spade a spade.

XYZ said...

@Ayesha: I see what you're saying, i.e. making a distinction between an Embassy vs a Consulate employee. Yes, I was referring only to Embassy employees. Interestingly, that may be the main reason that the US changed its statement regarding Davis. It now claims him as an employee of the Embassy as opposed to the Lahore Consulate.

@Al: You wrote: "For example the point relating to Foreign Office and control of the Federal Government. Pseudo Analysts will pick up this point that the govt is an Amreeki Pithoo and hence it got Davis out."
Yes, the government is screwed either way.

@Dost Mohammad: First of all, you have some of your facts mixed up. Yes, we did report on Geo and Najam Sethi meeting with the Americans, but it was not at the Pentagon. And neither did we ever say the Americans wanted Geo and Sethi to team up or engineered it.

Secondly, you have obviously decided in your mind what 'facts' you will accept and anything that goes against your preconceptions, you will simply ignore. I do wish, however, that you had focused your upset at Sethi's analysis by providing us alternative evidence or interpretation rather than simply attacking him and Geo (and us) for being beholden to American money. And no, we will not stop from calling a spade a spade, whether it seems politically correct or not. As I said, we're not fans of emotionalism.

The Sham said...

Your approach to this incident is both refreshing and laudable. Thank you for sticking to the known facts and dispensing with the hyperbolic pseudo-patriotic bile I've read surrounding the event. Your page = favorited.

@Ayesha: Actually, to clarify, the two separate conventions apply to different levels of diplomatic relations. In other words, The US has an Embassy AND Consular offices in Pakistan. Therefore, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations applies, regardless of whether he worked in a consular office or the main embassy. To belabor the point, just because he worked at the consular office doesn't mean the VCDR is thrown out. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations would apply if the only relations the nations have are through a consulate office, meaning full diplomatic relations have not been established. That's my take at any rate. I may certainly be reading this erroneously.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. Very nice juxtaposition by pyala. While the first programme showed how crude the ISI cohorts are (Dr Mazari didn't duck the issue, she used the terms 'waive' the immunity which in this case yanks are not prepared to), the US and its 'liberal' Pakistani allies are becoming very sophisticated. The American point of view was very well argued. Najam Sethi should also have said how could a Fed Govt that does not have the balls to stand up to the Mullahs, defy the US. The next round of wikileaks will demonstrate that this episode was part of Pakistan's foolish military-intelligence establishement to extract a concession from the Yanks about how many Indians do/don't sabotage GHQ's 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan.
I won't say more for the fear of cutting short the orgasm of Pakistan's liberal silent majority!

Anonymous said...

Yep great facts. So how many times has America itself broken the Geneva convention and sentenced foreign diplomats to life in prison for traffic accidents? You want to check that out?

And this guy was a CIA worker whose real name we dont even know.... Sheeesh looks like u guys have some lucrative contracts lined up with USAID.

Dost Mohammad said...

Dear XYZ,
ok yes I did mixed up the fact, a little, and it was a party by the Ashley Bommer where Ibrahim Rehman walked in with Najam Sethi. Kindly refer to Cafe Pyala post of 26th November, Titled Money Talks, where you have clearly accused the Geo Tv of being on "some sort" of American Payroll" and accused them of being "subsdized" by the American Money and "potential threat of withdrawal of lucrative financial support may be the trigger for a panic at the Jang Group".
dear XYZ my PRECONCEPTION was shaped by YOU and your writing. You went on length to describe how GEO was beholden to American Money and I feel a little cheated that you change your views so quickly.
By the way and to be honest I have really felt very liberated and while I discussed and promoted you the idea I learned from your post, but the buck stops here, you have stopped being brave.

Anonymous said...

so the moment geo starts towing your 'liberal' line it becomes refreshing

shame on you

Anonymous said...

The difference is obvious. Sethi didnt enter into journalism like rest of the MA Urdu pass Jamaatiyas who joined the Zia's propaganda machinery.

Ayeshaht said...

@The Sham

That's a misconception.

The two treaties 'Diplomatic Convention' & 'Consular Convention' govern diplomatic mission and Consulates respectively. So the US Consulates throughout Pakistan and anywhere in the world are governed by the 'Consular Convention', while the 'Diplomatic Convention' applies to the diplomatic mission alone.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, I posted a similar such analysis as a comment on Tribune's website. My comment awaited moderation, but never got posted :D however, a few 'Exchange Aafia for Davies' posts did manage to pass the moderation after my post :D

Jawad falak said...

Looks like Najam Sethi is still clinging to the hope that the Yanks will still fund him his own channel.
After all what will Pakistani liberals be if not having liberal doses of Hypocrisy

The Sham said...


Sorry, let me say it a little differently. While technically what you state is correct, what I am trying to convey to you is that just because he was working out of Lahore (a consulate), diplomatic immunity is not precluded. He may (most certainly was) posted to Islamabad and worked out of the Lahore office (I reread my OG post and left that operative statement out). If that is the case, he's got Diplomatic Immunity (PAT staff or otherwise) and Pakistan is in violation of the Geneva Convention.

If he was posted to Lahore, then yes, he's covered by Consular Immunity.

Sheikh Chillis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheikh Chillis said...

You conveniently forget that during initial investigation (whose video has now been widely distributed), Davis denies that he is affiliated with the US embassy, rather he corrected his interrogator that he worked as a consultant at the US Lahore "consulate".

Moreover, your position in the host country is not determined by your passport, but the visa designation conferred to you by the host nation --at the time. At the time of his arrest, Davis was NOT on any diplomatic list held by the Pakistani foreign office, nor did he hold any diplomatic status on his visa. Even the US claimed that he was attached as technical staff to it's Lahore consulate and had even requested the Pakistani foreign office to assign him to Lahore.

You sweep aside all the facts, throw in irrelevant minutia about Vienna Convention, as if that will impress anyone at this stage, and are so desperately clinging to fantasies and trying to build a case for Davis on wild hypothetical scenarios.

As a liberal blog, one would expect you to keep in mind, first and foremost, those bereaved Pakistani families who are the victims of this Blackwater (Xe) mercenary. You did not even feel necessary to acknowledge their loss. What if Davis had killed Bilawal and Bakhtawar ?, or some equally useless liberal glitterati ?.

I think it's only because these families belong to a class which is just "too Pakistani" for your privileged tastes.