There are no signs of tensions easing between Washington and Islamabad over the case of the US citizen Raymond Davis. A Pakistani court in Lahore has adjourned the hearing of Davis' case until March 14.
Pakistani security officials escort Raymond Davis, a U.S. consulate employee, center, to a local court in Lahore
A further delay in deciding the fate of Raymond Davis by the Pakistani court will possibly increase the tensions between the two allies in the war against terrorism.
The United States claims that Mr. Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Conventions and must therefore be immediately released. Earlier, US President Barack Obama had reiterated the US position on Davis and US Senator John Kerry also visited Islamabad to resolve the bitter conflict. However, things are more complicated than they seem.
No verdict before March 14
The Lahore High Court Chief Justice, Ijaz Mohammad Cahudhry, adjourned the hearing of Davis' case on Thursday, saying that the deputy attorney general of Pakistan had requested three weeks to submit a reply on the status of Raymond Davis. The court accepted the government's request and the case will now be heard on March 14.
The court has also ordered the Pakistani government to put Davis' name on the country's Exit Control List (ECL).
Both the Pakistani president and prime minister have said that they do not want the Raymond Davis case to hamper crucial strategic relations between the US and Pakistan, however, there is enormous domestic pressure on the Pakistan government not to hand over Davis to the Americans.
Pakistani government officials have already softened their stance on Davis and now agree with the US' claim that Davis possess diplomatic status. However, neither the US government nor the Pakistani government are clear about the exact nature of Raymond Davis' job at the US embassy in Lahore and Islamabad.
Domestic pressure and brouhaha
Islamist groups in Pakistan are already out on the streets protesting against Raymond Davis and the US government. They have warned the government of serious consequences if it pardons or releases Davis.
The anti-US sentiments are quite high in the Islamic republic these days and they are not just related to Raymond Davis's case. Many in Pakistan are extremely unhappy about the US drone attacks against the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the restive northwest region of Pakistan. Post-9/11, the anti-US sentiments in Pakistan have increased manifold despite the fact that the Pakistani population had viewed the US in a positive light during the Afghan War against the Soviet Union in the 1980's.
In light of the protests, it will not be easy for President Asif Ali Zardari to fulfill the demands of the US government. Other opposition parties, such as the Pakistan Muslim Leasgure (Nawaz group), are also exploiting this issue to hurt the federal government.
Important strategic ties under strain
The US has already shown its displeasure over Raymond Davis' detention, calling it illegal. It has already postponed an important trilateral meeting on Afghanistan with Pakistan, which now will go ahead later this month without Islamabad's particiaption. President Zaradari's US visit next month might also be put off due to the dispute over Davis.
It is also likely that the US might not release the next installment of the Kerry-Lugar financial aid package for Pakistan.
Pakistan's economy is in shambles and it relies heavily on the financial support of Washington. Pakistan's military not only depend on US financial aid and equipment; the long-term strategic partnership is vital for the country's ideological vanguards to counter the Indian military and political influence in the region.
This is probably why Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said that Pakistan cannot afford to mar its relations with the US.
The Islamic solution
Is there a way out of the crisis?
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission's director I A Rahman said that legal ways could be found to resolve this dispute. But some in Pakistan are now suggesting an Islamic solution.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Yousif Raza Gilani had appealed to the Islamic scholars of the country to help the government in finding an Islamic way to solve the crisis.
One possible way is the invocation of the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance of Shariah Law in which compensation is paid to the family of the victims. But will the US accept a solution which entails Islamic Shariah Law? It is bound to draw criticism in the US. The liberal sections in Pakistan also disapprove of the Shariah legislation and courts in the country, as they undermine the constitutional framework of the country. Sharia Law was promulgated and enforced be the Islamic military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.
If it all comes down to invoking Shariah Law in Pakistan, it will be a further embarrassment for the ruling Pakistan People's Party, which is considered a liberal political organization in the country and abroad. And the decision to release Davis under Shariah Law might not be accaptable to many in Pakistan.
Author: Shamil Shams (AFPE, RTRE)
Editor: Sarah Berning