Friday, February 25, 2011

'Raymond Davis' - FAQ

Continuing moronic statements by trolls on this blog and some no doubt military establishment-goaded television anchorpersons have forced me to address - hopefully for the last time - certain basic issues to do with the whole 'Raymond Davis' saga. Unfortunately, such is the deterioration of our national discourse and perhaps of our educational system that not only are people often unable to grasp simple arguments but are willing, immediately and without understanding the nuances of the points being made, to ascribe ulterior motives to anyone presenting facts that go against popular opinion. So for the sake of clarity, I will attempt to make my points as questions and answers in bullet form (no pun intended). Roughly the same questions have come up repeatedly in earlier comments.

The man known as Raymond Davis in custody

1. Do I 'support' 'Raymond Davis'?

No. I hold no brief for him or others like him. Nor do I wish to see 'security contractors' / yahoos like him roaming around in Pakistan.

2. Do I think US interventionism is okay in Pakistan?

Personally, I think crying about US interference in Pakistan's affairs after the 'Raymond Davis' affair is not only cretinous but also hypocritical - there has been American interference in this country's internal affairs almost since it was created and which has been welcomed wholeheartedly by our establishment which benefits handsomely from it. Moreover, it will continue to benefit from it in the foreseeable future as well irrespective of the public stances it takes. Nevertheless, no, I don't think it has generally been a force for good in the past and it has usually been counter-productive in the present.

3. Do I want Raymond Davis to walk free after killing two Pakistanis and being involved in the death of a third?

It really does not matter what I, or anyone else, may want. There is a small issue of diplomatic conventions that Pakistan is a signatory to. If he does have diplomatic immunity, Pakistani courts cannot try him unless the US gives its consent. I do think he should have a fair trial for the killings but, if he does have diplomatic immunity, the best Pakistan can do is ask the Americans to try him in the US.

4. Am I still claiming 'Raymond Davis' has immunity after all that has come to light about him?

I am not claiming anything beyond pointing out what is already there in the legal conventions and whatever evidence has so far appeared. The basic question on which this hinges, as far as I can ascertain and as has been pointed out earlier, is whether 'Davis' was a member of the US Embassy staff in Islamabad - in which case the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 applies to him and he has blanket immunity - or a member of the US Consulate staff in Lahore - in which case the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 applies to him and he does not have blanket immunity. That determination is, in my opinion, the main one that needs to be made.

5. But he's an acknowledged spy! And he is a contractor, not a diplomat!

As I pointed out in one of my earlier posts on this issue, long before the shocker (not!) of the acknowledgement that 'Davis' works for the CIA, it does not matter as far as the legal standing of diplomatic immunity is concerned. The Vienna Convention of 1961 (not the 1963 Convention on Consular Relations) grants the same privileges to an embassy's "technical and administrative staff" as diplomats. Of course there are spies working on 'cover posts' in all embassies and anyone who has any doubt should go ask the Pakistan Foreign Office about how many intelligence personnel are deputed in our foreign missions on cover posts. Should they all go round killing people and claiming immunity? And does diplomatic immunity confer the license to kill? Obviously not. But that doesn't change the legal position.

6. But what about Shah Mahmood Qureshi's claim that the Foreign Office had determined that 'Raymond Davis' did not have blanket immunity?

Mr. Qureshi or the Foreign Office has yet to state the evidence on which this claim was based. Indeed, the Foreign Office has yet to make that claim officially itself. They may have valid reasons, especially if the US had 1) not actually notified 'Davis' as a diplomat to the Foreign Office (contrary to what the Americans are now claiming which would mean also that their official letter is fabricated) or 2) If the US had notified him as attached to the Lahore Consulate rather than the Islamabad embassy. However, we have yet to hear of the reasoning. The Pakistan Foreign Office does indeed have the right to determine diplomatic status under Pakistan law, but obviously this has to be based on solid reasoning.

There have been some in the Pakistani press who have pointed to lacunae in the Pakistani law that the Foreign Office must 'approve' diplomatic status even after another state notifies someone as a diplomat (an approval that 'Davis' had apparently not received), and which do not grant diplomatic status to 'technical and administrative staff' of embassies. Moreover, they have claimed that Pakistani law takes precedence over international law (i.e. the Vienna Conventions). The Vienna Convention applicable to embassy staff (1961) itself only needs the 'sending' state to notify (there is no clause for approval) and, as pointed out before, applies equally to an embassy's technical and administrative staff. The common sense understanding of international law is that if a state ratifies an international treaty, it must ensure that its own laws comply with it. However, this is a matter of legal haggling and should this matter (of whether local law takes precedence over ratified international law) become a real issue, it would seem the International Court of Justice would have to be referred to, where in my humble opinion, if this is all that Pakistan's position is, its case would be weak.

7. Don't you think the US has been lying about 'Raymond Davis'? And don't you think the US media has been equally hypocritical by hiding facts it knew about him?

Yes and yes. Absolutely. The US government's response in the immediate aftermath of the incident was especially muddled and led to suspicions in the minds of most Pakistanis that it was trying to hide its guilt (which it probably was). The US media's capitulation to American government pressure to withhold information about 'Davis'' real activities has been particularly shameful. The Pakistani media should not be emulating it.

8. Don't you think there is more to this issue than what we already know?

Almost certainly. My analysis is based purely on what is already in the public domain. But it needs to be pointed out that so are the claims of almost everyone else in the media and my criticism of some of them is predicated on simply pointing out the flaws in their arguments.

9. So what should Pakistan have done? Do you want Pakistan to take this lying down?

There were a couple of recourses available to Pakistan before this sorry saga unfolded. One, it should not have given 'Raymond Davis' a visa if it had any doubts about him. Even after it granted him a visa, it could have expelled him from the country if it found his activities incompatible with diplomatic norms. However, if 'Davis' indeed has diplomatic immunity, all it can do now - aside from asking the US to lift it - is to declare him persona non grata and expel him and request the US to try him in its courts.

 Everybody hates 'Raymond'

What we are seeing, unfortunately, is a whipping up of emotionalism and fanciful conspiracy theories to cover up the dire incompetence and / or collusion of our security services. There are claims now that the visas were granted without proper checks because the security services were cut out of the loop in foreign capitals by the political establishment. First of all, if this is even true, why was this not raised as an issue at the time? 'Davis'' first visa was issued in 2009. He received two subsequent visas in 2010, both from Islamabad. Were our security services sleeping? Or are they so riddled with bureaucracy that their flagging of a violation of norms took until 2011 to trickle up to the relevant officers?

Secondly, even if one accepts that our security services were cut out of the loop in the grant of visas, what about the entire time 'Davis' and others like him were living in Pakistan and conducting their "subversive" activities? Are we to take it that, in the almost two years he kept coming in and out of Pakistan, our intelligence was so incompetent that it never once spotted his activities and flagged them? Shouldn't they have paid particular attention to people who allegedly bypassed normal security clearances? It would seem that all this hoopla now is to cover up the fact that our security services had dropped the ball.

We are now hearing all sorts of stories about 'Davis' - from the silly story in The News by Marianna Babar about his addiction to niswar (as if chewing tobacco or snuff is a rarity among US servicemen particularly from areas like Virginia state), to claims in the Express Tribune that 'Davis' was orchestrating bombings by the Pakistani Taliban (sourced to anonymous intelligence personnel) to claims on Geo and in The Nation (sourced from some alleged Russian intelligence report) that he was involved in supplying nuclear material to Al Qaeda in order to frame Pakistan. We should be clear about one thing. Regardless of the authenticity (or likely not) of these stories, they are basically a smokescreen that obscure the real issues of this case. They matter not a whit in whether 'Raymond Davis' is tried in Pakistan or whether we are forced to expel him without a trial.

10. Should Pakistan reassess its ties with US intelligence and its covert operations programme?

By all means. But Pakistan's establishment should do so in a cool, logical manner, having weighed the consequences of its actions. This should not be done by whipping public opinion into a frenzy through post-facto planting of stories and side-tracking issues. You want to kick out Xe (nee Blackwater) operatives from Pakistan? Absolutely do so. Why wait until they cause damage?

Footnote: You may want to read this piece from Foreign Policy that came in as I was writing. It deals with what may have allegedly been agreed between the Pakistani and American military's top officials particularly regarding this case in a closed-door meeting in Oman yesterday. If this report is correct, you may actually very soon see a complete change of tone in the media as well.

Parody of the Day

Just came across this hilarious skit from Dunya TV's Hasb-e-Haal, where the resident comic genius known as Azizi (real name Sohail Ahmed) parodies former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's persona after his recent bombastic speech. In common parlance, this would undoubtedly be known as the 'taking' of Shah Mahmood... Enjoy.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Shah Mahmood Qureshi - One or Two Things I Know About Him

In case you missed the Oscar-worthy performance of former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on February 16, you might want to take a look at the following clip in which he not only boasts about his great vision and achievements as Foreign Minister and divulges details about the internal workings of the government, he also refers to himself repeatedly in the third person. "Shah Mahmood was right there", "Shah Mahmood cannot be pressured", "Shah Mahmood kept the flag flying" etc. etc. etc.

Whatever else we may have learnt from this entirely self-promoting press conference, it does in fact tell us a few things about the suave pir from southern Punjab.

1. For one, the man has an ego the size of Multan. Anyone who has can refer to himself in the third person with nary a hint of irony or embarrassment has to have something going on in his head that we should all be wary of. Remember a certain Nawaz Sharif?

2. He obviously fancies himself as the reincarnation of another former rebellious foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The body language, the expressions, the brusque mannerisms seem entirely, albeit unsuccessfully, copied from his professed idol.

3. Consequently it can be easily extrapolated that he also fancies himself as a future prime minister. You just know that's what he has set his sights on. In fact, he casually even brings up his (unsuccessful) nomination as prime minister by Benazir Bhutto in 2002. Obviously, he feels his time has come.

4. He has previously indicated his closeness to the military establishment through some of the stances he has taken. Here he once again lets slip that the Foreign Office decision on Raymond Davis had the direct input of the ISI, or as he calls it "a third state institution." I personally have little doubt after this conference that the feeling is mutual. The military would probably not find a better candidate than him from the current lot of politicos. Imran Khan, a longtime favourite of the boys is of course equally urbane, articulate and acceptable in the West but lacks one critical element that Qureshi has: electability as a prime minister. Are we seeing the grooming of the alternative option?

Meanwhile, at one point in his conference, Shah Mahmood claims that all serving and retired diplomats support him. He obviously did not count on former ambassador Zafar Hilaly. Hilaly can sometimes be a bit of a loose cannon in his writings and statements. But his takedown of Qureshi in today's Express Tribune deserves to be reproduced in all its acerbity.

The rise and fall of Shah Mahmood Qureshi
By Zafar Hilaly 
"Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s performance at his press conference on February 16 deserved a curtain call. His vocation should have been the stage, rather than politics. The affected manner, the dramatic pauses, the contrived humility, letting his expression suggest what words cannot, the fact that he did not actually cry while he made his audience think that he was crying were all expressions of that neurotic impulse that actors develop for the stage. Perhaps if Qureshi really wants to be taken seriously, he should quit acting because that would be a sign of maturity.
On the Raymond Davis matter, he prevaricated when certainty was required; he kept quiet when he needed to speak out and then spoke out when it was best to be silent. What he should have done when he discovered that his take on the Raymond Davis matter differed from that of the leadership of his party — and indeed that they differed on politics and not only principles, because some were contemplating doctoring documents — was to resign and not wait to be booted out which, for all practical purposes, he was.
The trouble with Qureshi, like his icon Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is that he, too, is a compulsive performer. All politicians are vain but like ZA Bhutto, Qureshi does not wear his vanity lightly. Moreover, he wraps himself up in the flag at the slightest opportunity. Ever the egotist, Qureshi has assumed the role of the wronged patriot much as ZA Bhutto did in 1966 by raising the Tashkent bogey. Faced with the prospect of having lost his job, Qureshi also lashed out at the regime to which he had sworn fealty, in which he had prospered and by which he had been rewarded with high office. But all that Qureshi has succeeded in achieving is to widen suspicion about his loyalty which had always been loitering in the minds of PPP stalwarts, from a chink into a veritable chasm. Needless to say, like Bhutto, who never disclosed the secret clauses of Tashkent — because there were none — we probably won’t ever know what further disclosures Qureshi has up his sleeve.
By exaggerating achievements of his nondescript and relatively brief tenure as foreign minister and laying on self-praise with a trowel, the impression he gave was exactly the opposite of what he intended. It made him sound much like a mother who talks about her own children. Or, better still, like the fly that sat on the axle wheel of the Roman chariot and said ‘see what dust I raise’.
However, while ZA Bhutto had several solid achievements to brag about during his long stint as foreign minister, Qureshi has none. If he stood tall, it is only because, like Gulliver, he served among Lilliputians. To claim, for example, that the mention of Kashmir in his speech at the UN was a singular contribution to the Kashmiri cause amounted to what one friend described kindly as “superfluity of excess,” which is longhand for lies. The brave Kashmiris are responsible for returning the Kashmir dispute to the forefront of the international agenda, not Qureshi’s prattling from the UN podium.
Qureshi’s other claim that, but for him, the India-Pakistan dialogue would not have resumed, was more revealing of the novice that he was, and remains, when it comes to foreign affairs. It is mostly to India’s advantage that talks resume with Pakistan. India is seeking support for her candidature for permanent membership of the Security Council and talks, even if only for the sake of talking, help to show India as being conciliatory. It deflects attention from Delhi’s depredations in Kashmir, which have aroused outrage in India and abroad. On the other hand, talks and their inevitably inconclusive outcome serve no purpose for Pakistan. Thanks to this government and the other preceding it, we no longer have an image that is worth our while to maintain.
Qureshi made much of the fact that he had refused to be pressurised by his own party leaders on Raymond Davis because he did not want to be a party to the killing of ‘innocent’ Pakistanis. Indeed, if the victims are found to be innocent, that would be justifiable cause for elation. However, at the time that he was ‘heroically’ resisting such pressure, and even now, it is by no means certain that the two motorcyclists were entirely innocent. When Qureshi declared them innocent, not even the police had made up their minds, what to speak of the court where the trial has yet to begin. Was he trying to say that he knew that Davis is a homicidal maniac because who else will kill people merely because they were hanging around his car?
As for the ‘consultations’ that Qureshi claims he had with ‘experts’ of other departments before arriving at his conclusions, two of those departments, the interior ministry and presumably the intelligence agencies, would have known next to nothing about the Vienna Conventions. As for the legal wing of the Foreign Office, if those manning it had been remotely competent, they would have made their living at the Bar.
Qureshi would have been better advised to have got expert advice not from his subordinates but from independent experts of repute. Had he done so, he would have realised that the entire matter of the status of Raymond Davis hinged on the fact of whether he was a member of the technical and administrative staff of the embassy, as the Americans claim, in which case he has blanket immunity, or whether he is a consular official attached to the US consulate, in which case he does not.
One should have been able to say with near certainty that Shah Mahmood Qureshi has burnt his boats with the PPP and that his open defiance of the party leadership is as transparent an effort as any that can be made to carve out a bloc of his own supporters within the party, or perhaps to leave it altogether. However, the PPP is now in the hands of people who are all ‘loyal’ to the party, but in their own fashion and only for the moment. The likes of them may well welcome him back when, in fact, he should be stiff armed into oblivion."

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Great Arab Revolt - Part I

Apologies for the disappearing act from all of us. One thing or another has kept us occupied and unable to sit down to post. There's a bunch of stuff we have wanted to post on which hopefully we'll get round to. I myself have been particularly mulling over the Great Arab Revolt taking place over the last few weeks, about why what we are seeing is not a 'Revolution' (at least not yet), about what a comparative study of upheavals in modern history indicates about the implications for Pakistan, and why I think most analysts have mistaken at least one important aspect of the causes of this social change.

But for now I just wanted to draw your attention to an article in the International Herald Tribune today which makes for fascinating reading for Pakistanis as well. As we all know by now, the youthful protestors in Egypt who toppled President Hosni Mubarak had one stance that many of us in Pakistan found hard to relate to: their apparent respect and adulation for the military in Egypt. To be sure, the Egyptian army's "neutral" stance helped ensure that the Egyptian protesters were not mercilessly slaughtered in the streets and probably played a large part in forcing Mubarak to reconsider his adamant stance that he would cling on to power. But still, protesters needing to keep the military on their side as a tactical manoeuvre and reiterating continued praise for the army as 'the most respected institution in Egypt' are two very different things.

Many were lulled into believing fundamental differences between the perceptions and structure of the military in the two countries. But consider the following paras from the report titled 'Egyptians Say Military Discourages an Open Economy':

"The Egyptian military defends the country, but it also runs day care centers and beach resorts. Its divisions make television sets, jeeps, washing machines, wooden furniture and olive oil, as well as bottled water under a brand reportedly named after a general’s daughter, Safi.

From this vast web of businesses, the military pays no taxes, employs conscripted labor, buys public land on favorable terms and discloses nothing to Parliament or the public.

Since the ouster last week of President Hosni Mubarak, of course, the military also runs the government. And some scholars, economists and business groups say it has already begun taking steps to protect the privileges of its gated economy, discouraging changes that some argue are crucial if Egypt is to emerge as a more stable, prosperous country.

“Protecting its businesses from scrutiny and accountability is a red line the military will draw,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on Egypt’s military at the Naval Postgraduate School. “And that means there can be no meaningful civilian oversight.”"

Sounds familiar doesn't it? (In case it doesn't, try re-reading Ayesha Siddiqa's book Military Inc.) Then consider the following, also from the same report:

"Moreover, the military’s power to guide policy is, at the moment, unchecked. The military has invited no civilian input into the transitional government, and it has enjoyed such a surge in prestige since it helped usher out Mr. Mubarak that almost no one in the opposition is criticizing it.

“We trust them,” said Walid Rachid, a member of the April 6 Youth Movement that helped set off the revolt. “Because of the army our revolution has become safe.”"

So my questions are: are the youth activists of Egypt unaware of this structural issue of Egypt's political economy? Or if they are aware, have they chosen to ignore it? And if they ignore it deliberately, what does that say about the class structure and political aims of the youth movement? Alternatively, if it is indeed merely a tactical ploy to ignore it, how much longer can they afford to do so? Perhaps, rather than Pakistanis looking to Egypt for understanding on how to build a movement, Egyptians could also do worse than looking at Pakistan's history to understand why movements for real social change have failed.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Map of the Day

Wow. Wow. Wow. The interwebs have been abuzz with the following image from that epitome of insightful coverage, Fox News.

As they say at Fox News, 'Egypt, Iraq, same difference, it's the bleeding Middle East fer Chrissake!'

Okay, so we know that this image is actually from two years ago. Oh, it's actually from a real broadcast by Fox News, don't get us wrong. Just that it wasn't repeated during the current Egypt crisis. But as we like to say at Cafe Pyala, 'Two years ago, now, same difference, it's bleeding Fox News FFS!'

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wedding Or Not, The Jang Group Gets Served

We had internally decided to steer clear of commenting on the rumours circulating on the internet - apparently for a few months now though they seem to have got more notice in the last few days - about President Asif Zardari's alleged secret marriage to a Pakistani-American physician Dr. Tanveer Zamani. The reasons for this were rather simple: in the absence of any credible evidence (even the blogs asserting this information admitted that they had no real evidence and were basing their claims on hearsay), any comment would be mere speculation and not a lot different from tabloid sleaze.

Secondly, there's a tricky line here between 'public interest' and using someone's entirely private life to somehow discredit them in the eyes of some. Although it can be argued that Zardari re-marrying could impact national politics and thus be of 'public interest', until that information is confirmed, it remains within the realm of the millions of unverified rumours circulating in cyberspace that don't necessarily deserve the attention of responsible media. To be absolutely truthful, we were wary also of this being some sort of orchestrated smear campaign, and since we could neither confirm or deny the rumours, we thought it best to not to indulge in wild speculation.

Of course, no such qualms for The News' Group Editor Shaheen Sehbai, who decided to append his name to a curiously full-of-innuendo-but-short-of-anything-definite story in the paper today (an Urdu version also appeared in Jang). Most of it was lifted straight from the questionable blogs (all of which carry the same story in the same words and which Pakistan Media Watch has also commented on) but his one value addition was that he spoke to the lady in question, who bizarrely remained non-committal in her answers. Of course, with the story appearing in a mainstream publication, this has only opened the floodgates to further speculation, now with other blogs and even international news agencies feeling it kosher to jump on to the bandwagon.

We still do not have any credible evidence either way and do not wish to be drawn to comment on the authenticity of the story. All we have been able to glean about Dr. Zamani's background is that she joined one of the three factions of the terribly fractured Pakistan People's Party in the US in 2009, that she quite obviously has tried to model her appearance on the late Benazir Bhutto and is reputed to be a bit of an attention-seeker.

However, what we can confirm is that Dr. Tanveer Zamani has sent the following email directly to the press, from her own email address, in response to Sehbai's story:

"I have never met President Zardari and the only reason I have refrained from commenting on an internet hoax involving me is because I deemed it beneath my dignity to respond to such a hoax. Bloggers and journalists do not have the right to make up stories and disrupt the lives of people. I explicitly and clearly deny being married or being subject to a proposal or notion of being married to the Pakistani President, whom I hold in high esteem."

We can also confirm through our sources that the Jang Group has been served a legal notice by the "Bhutto-Zardari" family through their representative Mark Siegel and the legal firm of LockeLordBissell&Liddell. The notice demands of the Jang Group to immediately publish a "retraction and apology" for the "libelous" article, which it terms based on "a complete lie that was fostered by an internet hoax." The letter states:

"Publication of such a non-sourced fabrication was not only reckless, it was malicious. President Zardari has never met Dr. Zamani, and Dr. Zamani has confirmed such to Mr. Siegel."

The notice further says that in case such a retraction and apology is not immediately published, legal action will be initiated...

"...for libel, malicious publication and intentional infliction of emotional distress in all jurisdictions where your newspaper is published, as well as any jurisdiction in which your paper has assets. This lawsuit will seek in excess of $100 million, which the Bhutto-Zardari family would donate to the victims of the 2010 floods in Pakistan."

A copy of the legal notice with some initial mistakes (Shaheen Sehbai's name, his email address, date of publication of the story, supposedly subsequently corrected) is reproduced below:

The legal notice to the Jang Group

Readers may draw their conclusions whether journalistic ethics demanded that Shaheen Sehbai and the Jang Group gather some more evidence before publishing the story. It would do well to recall that under libel laws, the defence that you are merely repeating what has been said by someone else or published elsewhere, is no defence at all.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Brief History of Diplomatic Immunity (Updated)

Since we Pakistanis often suffer simultaneously from the twin demons of megalomania and paranoia - verily we are better than everyone else and that is why everyone is out to get us - we often also look at history through a rather selective and distorted lens. Unfortunately, none typify this mindset more than the doyens and doyennes of the Pakistani electronic media, in whom a curious mix of hyper-patriotism, half-baked information, sincere ignorance and arrogant bluster seems generally to hold sway.

Take the issue of the day on Pakistani media: whether the American known by his apparent pseudonym "Raymond Davis" - who shot dead two men in Lahore - can be tried by Pakistani courts or whether the US government has any right to claim diplomatic immunity for him. I am not going to offer my own opinion on this because, for better or worse, this is an issue for the US and Pakistani states to sort out. (I should, however, point out that, personally speaking, I do not think armed Americans or armed anyone should be roaming around the streets of Pakistan.)

But having seen numerous commentaries on television where emotive claims have been made about how Americans have not respected diplomatic immunity in their own cases, how immunity does not extend to serious crimes or how Pakistani diplomats have never been extended this kind of privilege, I just want to direct readers to a few examples.

Here's The Independent reporting in 1997 about a case in which a drunk Georgian diplomat killed a 16-year-old girl in New York with his reckless driving and the US requested a waiver from immunity for him. (The paper reports that Georgia was unlikely to approve the request though it actually was approved at the discretion of the Georgian government and the diplomat was sentenced for 7-21 years. He was transferred back to Georgia after serving three years [link courtesy @qabacha].) The piece also cites other incidences of less egregious crimes by diplomats that go unpunished. Appropriately for us, the story is titled "Can A Diplomat Get Away With Murder?"

You may also recall the shooting dead of British constable Yvonne Fletcher apparently by Libyan embassy staff in London in 1984 as well as the wounding of 11 others. Diplomatic immunity allowed the staff not to be prosecuted at all, though Britain subsequently broke off diplomatic relations with Libya. Fifteen years later, Libya accepted "general responsibility" and paid compensation, though some experts continued to question whether the police officer's death was actually caused by someone shooting from within the embassy.

Coming to Pakistani diplomats invoking diplomatic immunity, let us recall the case of our Ambassador to Spain, Mr. Haroon-ur-Rashid Abbasi, who Pakistan withdrew from his post in 1975 without allowing prosecution when heroin was discovered in his suitcase.

Let us also recall the case of our longtime permanent rep at the UN, Ambassador Munir Akram in 2003 who was accused of assault by his then girlfriend. The US also asked Pakistan to waive immunity in that case, which Pakistan did not oblige. (The case was eventually settled when Mr Akram persuaded his girlfriend to withdraw the charges against him).

So, as they say, au contraire, my friends.

Some final points, and please remember that we are only taking issue with the 'facts' of the case as presented in the media. Television analysts have almost unanimously claimed that "Davis" did not have a 'diplomatic visa'. It might behoove someone to ask our media pundits if they have ever actually seen a Pakistani diplomatic visa. From our own investigations, it seems Pakistani visas have no such specified category of 'Diplomatic Visa' (unlike some other countries). In fact, according our sources, all foreign diplomats receive Pakistani visas with the marking "Purpose of Visit:" "Official" or "Official Business" (not Official / Business, another category that does not exist) on their diplomatic passports. If they carry such a visa on their diplomatic passport and the Foreign Office has been so notified, they receive diplomatic immunity during their stay in Pakistan.

Here are some scans of Davis' passport as presented on DawnNews' Reporter programme...

This is the marking on his passport, which clearly states that he is on "diplomatic assignment" (click picture to enlarge):

This is his current visa, issued incidentally not in Washington (as claimed by Shireen Mazari on Geo and Syed Talat Hussain on DawnNews) but in Islamabad:

In fact, "Davis" only once received a three-month visa in 2009 from Washington. His subsequent 4-month visa in 2010 and his current 2-year visa were both issued within Pakistan.

Kamran Khan on Geo also went to great lengths to 'break the news' that "Davis" is a spy who works for the CIA. He almost certainly is. But not only is that not amazing insight, we have to ask, so? Is his actual work the issue of contention here? As former ambassador Zafar Hilaly pointed out on Dunya, spooks get posted on "cover postings" abroad all the time, including by the Pakistan Foreign Office, and they all receive diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention. Let's at least be clear what we are arguing about.

: : : UPDATES : : :

There have been some comments questioning some of my assertions in this post, which have been answered in the comments section. You may want to have a look.

A couple of other cases have been brought to our notice which we are also sharing. The first is the case in January 2001 of a Russian diplomat who killed a woman in Canada while driving drunk. A couple of quotes from this piece are worth pointing out.

"Andrey Knyazev was charged with criminal negligence causing death, impaired driving, failing to provide a breath sample, and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Knyazev immediately claimed diplomatic immunity and on Monday, Russia denied Canada's request to lift it. [Russian Ambassador Vitaly] Churkin urged Canadians not to judge all Russians on the actions of one man. But he defended his government's right to recall Knyazev, saying it's tradition and common practice in the diplomatic community. “Many people are not happy that we didn't lift the diplomatic immunity," Churkin said. "The Canadian government has expressed its displeasure but recognized that this is our right.""

And this bit of wisdom from Canada's Foreign Minister that Pakistanis may also want to understand:

"[The] tragedy has raised questions about the use of diplomatic immunity to escape prosecution. But Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley says he will not use this case to press for changes. "There's an old saying among lawyers that hard cases make bad law," Manley said following a cabinet meeting Tuesday. "I think that (revising diplomatic rules) is something that we'd want to look at in a broader circumstance, not in the situation which we're in now," he said."

Incidentally, Shahid Saeed has also pointed out two further cases where Pakistani diplomats have invoked diplomatic immunity. The first involved Col Mohammad Hamid, a military attache in Pakistan's High Commission in London, who was caught in 2000 having sex with a prostitute in his car in a public place. When caught, Hamid immediately invoked diplomatic immunity and therefore could not be arrested. Here's an Indian Express report of the incident, which was also reported in the English papers.

The second involved the arrest in April 2001 in Kathmandu of Pakistan's first secretary Mohammad Arshad Cheema. 16kg of high-intensity explosive RDX were recovered from his residence. The Indian government believed him to be also linked to the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 which resulted in the freeing from Indian prisions of (subsequently Daniel Pearl murder accused) Omar Saeed Sheikh and Jaish-e-Mohammad leader 'Maulana' Masood Azhar. This report from the respected Indian magazine Frontline presents a wider and less one-sided perspective on the arrest. It also provides evidence of two things we already asserted in our post: that spies (and even military operatives) are often posted by foreign governments under diplomatic cover and that diplomatic immunity extends even to grave crimes. Cheema was expelled from Nepal rather than be prosecuted even though, by any definition, possessing high intensity explosives for ulterior motives is a very serious charge in any country.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Problematic Appeal

* * * * * * * * * * * *
CLARIFICATION: We posted the following in good faith but seem to have misconstrued some of the facts. It has been brought to our attention, particularly by our friend Shahid Saeed, that the letter addressed to PEMRA's Council of Complaints has not, in fact, been submitted yet and was circulated to gather input from others, and as such is a draft internal document. Saeed feels it may have been unethical of us to lay the document open to critique by people who are not part of the process and we think he may have a very valid point. In addition, the conversation with Zafar Siddiqui referred to below occurred after the Lahore chapter of the CFD filed an earlier complaint with PEMRA against Samaa, not after this letter was submitted. Unfortunately, it would probably also be unethical of us to remove this post altogether now that it has already become public domain. But we would like of offer our sincerest apologies to the CFD for this inadvertent publicization of their draft internal document.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Citizens For Democracy (CFD), a loose "Pakistan-wide coalition of civil society, labour, student and religious organizations" as well as "intellectuals, academics and professionals" has sent is considering sending the following complaint to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)'s Council of Complaints against the hiring of Meher Bokhari by Dunya TV after she was sacked from Samaa TV:

"The Chairperson
Council of Complaints, Islamabad
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Headquarters
G-8/1, Mauve Area

Subject: Complaint against the recent hiring of Mehar Bukhari by Duniya channel

Dear Chairperson,

We, Citizens for Democracy (“CFD”), are a Pakistan-wide coalition of civil society, labour student and religious organizations, intellectuals, academics and professionals with branches in Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta, Lahore and Islamabad.  CFD believes that the primary obligation of the State is to protect the lives and property of citizens and that no person or group of people should be permitted to hold the State and the people of Pakistan hostage through the threat or use of force.  A list of some of the organizations that form CFD is attached.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (“PEMRA”) was established by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002 (the “PEMRA Ordinance”), inter alia, to “improve the standards of information, education and entertainment” in Pakistan.  Section 20(c) of the PEMRA Ordinance requires all PEMRA licencees authorized to broadcast electronic media to “ensure that all programs and advertisements do not contain violence, terrorism, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency” and to comply with any rules made under the PEMRA Ordinance.

Rule 15 of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Rules, 2009 (the “PEMRA Rules”) requires that the content of the programs which are broadcast by the broadcast media shall conform to the provisions of Section 20 of the PEMRA Ordinance and to the Code of Conduct set out in Schedule A thereof.  The Code of Conduct is set out below:


(1) No programme shall be aired which:

(a)      Passes derogatory remarks about any religion or sect or community or uses visuals or words contemptuous of religious sects and ethnic groups or which promotes communal and sectarian attitudes or disharmony;

(b)      contains anything pornographic, obscene or indecent or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality;

(c)      contains an abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race or caste, national, ethnic or linguistic origin, colour or religion or sect, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability;

(d)     contains anything defamatory or knowingly false;

(e)      is likely to encourage and incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national or anti-state attitudes;

(f)       contains anything amounting to contempt of court;

(g)      contains aspersions against the Judiciary and integrity of the Armed Forces of Pakistan;

(h)      maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country

(i)        is against basic cultural values, morality and good manners;

(j)        brings into contempt Pakistan or its people or tends to undermine its integrity or solidarity as an independent and sovereign country;

(k)      promotes, aids or abets any offence which is cognizable under the Pakistan Penal Code;

(l)        denigrates men or women through the depiction in any manner of the figure, in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent or derogatory;

(m)    denigrates children;

(n)      contains anything which tends to glorify crime or criminals;

(o)      contains material which may be detrimental to Pakistan’s relations with friendly countries; or

(p)      contains material which is against ideology of Pakistan or Islamic values.

(Emphasis added)

CFD demands that irresponsible journalists like Mehar Bukhari should not be allowed on air as they have a strong tendency to incite violence and promote a culture of hatred.  We are attaching with this mail  a link to two clips from Mehar Bukhari’s show on Samaa TV where she interviewed the late Governor Salman Taseer on the 25th of November 2010. Her demeanor and language was extraordinarily inflammatory and provocative and we believe that this broadcast was also partially responsible for the assassination.

The above cited Broadcast violates the Code of Conduct and is a violation of the PEMRA Rules and Ordinance in that the presenter of the Show, Ms. Mehr Bokhari, conducted an interview with Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer on the issue of the Blasphemy Laws in which she (i) insisted that the Governor’s life was in danger for having inflamed the public’s religious passions, (ii) read out a Fatwa that declared the Governor Punjab a non-Muslim as a result of his pursuing a mercy petition on behalf of a Christian woman convicted of charges of blasphemy and, specifically, the following portion of the Fatwa: “that Munafiq and a Murtid cannot hold high office in this country.”  Ms. Bokhari insisted the Fatwa she read out had force.  This edition of News Beat was subsequently re-broadcast immediately after the assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer.  The provisions of the Code of Conduct violated by the Impugned Broadcast have been emphasized above.

Ms Bukhari demonstrated that she is not responsible journalist or human being when she intentionally misinterpreted Goveernor Taseer’s marks about the blasphemy law. Our media personalities and anchor need to reminded of their social duties so that they do not blindly run ther shows in orderto score more points by gaining cheap attention. Mehar Bukhari should have to pay a penalty for her deplorable attitude and we recommend that she be banned from any news channel for at least a period of three years.

With best regards.
Very truly yours,
On behalf of CFD

-            List of organizations forming CFD

Copies to:
-  Chairman
G-8/1, Mauve Area

- Chairperson
Council of Complaints, Lahore
House No. 25, Abid Majeed Road
Bridge Colony

- Mr. Qamar Zaman Kaira
Minister for Information and Broadcasting
Ministry of Information, Government of Pakistan

- Jaag Productions (Private) Limited
Technocity Corporate Towers
off I.I. Chundrigar Road,
Karachi 74000"

Personally, while we support CFD's aims of putting all such media personalities on notice that they cannot simply get away with spewing all sorts of irresponsible nonsense on television and even building pressure on PEMRA to do the job it has been tasked with, we're not so sure that singling out Ms. Bokhari for such stark punitive action is entirely appropriate. After all, the ultimate responsibility for such broadcasts must rest with the channel owners and their editorial heads, rather than simply with their public faces. In fact, PEMRA's earlier action of fining Samaa rightly focused on the channel rather than the presenter. Asking for a three year ban on any one particular person also seems particularly excessive especially given that there are far worse offenders on Pakistani screens (who should also be taken to task) and that the rest of those responsible for even these particular broadcasts escape any kind of censure by CFD.

Meher Bokhari: basking in notoriety (Source: GT Magazine)

Interestingly, one of the CFD members, Mahbina Wahid, also circulated an email to the group pointing out that after this an earlier complaint was filed with PEMRA against Samaa TV, Samaa TV owner Zafar Siddiqui himself called her. She wrote:

"He informed me that he had already sacked Meher Bokhari and her entire production team last week after seeing CDs of her show that were sent to him. He also said that he personally was very upset that it was his channel that had broadcast such a show. He lives in Dubai and is not involved in the day to day management of the channel, hence he was not aware of this show when it happened. He has also now ensured that certain other sensationalised items in Pakistan are not covered by his channel."

So at least we have clarity about the circumstances of Ms. Bokhari's departure from Samaa. If anything, CFD's ire should be focused more towards Dunya's unseemly haste and taste in signing on and relaunching Ms. Bokhari as a 'brave and fearless' "Pakistan's most dangerous journalist", as anyone who has seen their latest promos can attest.

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.