Rezaul H Laskar
Islamabad, Feb 16 (PTI) As a tense US-Pak standoffpersisted over diplomatic immunity to an American officialarrested for killing two men in Lahore, Premier Yousuf RazaGilani today made it clear that the fate of the accused wouldbe decided by the courts or relatives of the victims.
The US, on its part, insisted that Raymond Davis, thearrested man who worked for an American consulate in Pakistan,was covered under diplomatic immunity, though it also offeredto conduct a criminal investigation into the matter.During a meeting with Senate Foreign Relations CommitteeChairman John Kerry who was dispatched to Pakistan by theObama administration to calm tensions, Gilani said thebilateral ties should not be held hostage to the issue.
It is imperative that the issue "must not be allowed tomake bilateral relations hostage and have an impact on thepartnership in the ongoing struggle against terrorism and forrestoring peace and stability in Afghanistan," Gilani said.
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister told the NationalSeerat Conference, a gathering of clerics and religiousscholars, that the matter "is for the courts to decide or ifthe relatives of the dead men grant pardon."
Gilani''s remarks came a day after US President BarackObama stepped into the row over Davis for the first time,saying Pakistan should release the American on grounds ofdiplomatic immunity.
Davis was arrested soon after the shooting in Lahore onJanuary 27 and police have rejected his claim that he hadacted in self defence.
The Lahore High Court hearing the case is set to take upseveral petitions, including those from the government on thediplomatic immunity to Davis, tomorrow.
The Davis case has become a flashpoint betweenPakistan and the US, triggering anti-American sentiments inthis country, which is making it harder for authorities toback down despite the US pressure.
"Our Department of Justice will conduct its own thoroughcriminal investigation regardless of the immunity. We stillbelieve the immunity applies but that doesn''t mean we don''thave the right under our law or the capacity to go through ourown process," Kerry said last night.
He stressed that the American demand for Davis''release was based not on "arrogance or special treatment" buton international law, including the Vienna Conventions thathave been signed by both Pakistan and the US.Media reports quoting unnamed Pakistani officials claimedthat the two countries, after weeks of a tense stand-off, werenear an arrangement to repatriate the US official and thatPakistan government would concede in the court that hequalified for diplomatic immunity. (More) PTI RHL WAJ KIM