A Washington view of Qureshi-Davis fiasco
WASHINGTON: Sir Thomas More was a counsellor to King Henry VIII of England. In 1529 he was appointed Lord Chancellor. The following year, Henry decided to dump his first wife in favor of a younger woman. The Pope refused to grant an annulment of the first marriage. When he was asked to sign a letter along with leading English churchmen and aristocrats asking the Pope to reconsider, More refused, as he could see no legitimate grounds for granting the annulment.
His position ended up costing him not only his job, but his life. He was beheaded in 1535 for treason. More’s story formed the basis of a morality play called A Man for All Seasons, which ultimately became an Academy Award-winning motion picture.
I’m seeing a lot of parallels between that play and the Raymond Davis Affair. On 27 January, Raymond Davis, a former Green Beret working for the State Department, shot two men to death in Lahore. The 25-page charge sheet filed by the government of the Punjab with the district court includes statements of 47 witnesses who said that Davis continued to shoot at the two after they had turned to flee (i.e. after any possible threat to Davis had ended), and one was actually running away. Indeed, the autopsy showed that both men had been hit in the back.
Davis called a vehicle assigned to the US Consulate to come and get him. He then got back into his car and fled, but was arrested a short time later by traffic police. The SUV from the consulate, while driving on the wrong side of the road at high speed, struck a man on a motorcycle, killing him. The vehicle did not stop. Its occupants made no attempt to render aid to the victim. Instead, they simply left Ibadur Rehman to die in the street.
The United States government demanded Davis’ immediate release, claiming that he was a member of the US Embassy’s technical and administrative staff, and as such, was entitled to diplomatic immunity from felony prosecution. It likewise claimed that the occupants of the SUV were immune from prosecution.
The US demand is where Shah Mahmood Qureshi, then the foreign minister, got dragged into the story. All he had to do was sign off on Washington’s contention that Raymond Davis had diplomatic immunity and Washington would be happy.
The foreign minister had a problem, though. He knew that his office had never accorded Raymond Davis diplomatic status. In due course, he received a call from Secretary of State Clinton, who said that Davis was being held illegally in violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention. Qureshi knew what she already should have known. The Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act of 1972, which trumps the Vienna Convention in Pakistani law, gives the government of Pakistan the final say over who does and does not have diplomatic immunity. He explained the situation and said that he felt it was an issue to be determined by the courts.
Next, Ambassador Cameron Munter called Qureshi and told them that he’d been instructed to tell him that unless he signed a paper giving Davis diplomatic immunity (ex post facto), Clinton would not meet with him in Munich. Qureshi refused and cancelled his trip to Munich.
In A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas is told that he should sign in support of the king’s divorce because the king wants it, and that should be enough. More points out that there was a debate going on as to whether the world was flat or round. “If it is round, will the king’s command flatten it?” he asks rhetorically. “No, I will not sign.”
This situation is governed by Pakistani law. Hillary Clinton’s insistence to the contrary, backed by threats, does not change that fact any more than Henry VIII’s command could change the shape of the earth. Qureshi again refused to sign.
At that point, pressure was put on Pakistan’s government, with threats of aid cutoff.
Pakistan’s current government was ready to cave in to Washington’s demands. Qureshi was called to a meeting by President Zardari. It quickly became clear that other ministers wanted him to grant diplomatic immunity.
In A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas was reminded by a friend of all the important people who were willing to recognize the king’s divorce. “Why don’t you just come along with us, for fellowship?” his friend asks. More replies: “When we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”
It didn’t matter to Qureshi how many other people in the government wanted to appease Washington by giving Davis a free pass. As far as he was concerned, this was a matter of right and wrong. Once again, he refused to sign. In the ensuing cabinet reshuffle, Qureshi ceased to be foreign minister. He then found himself receiving base slander from his own party members.
When Sir Thomas More finds that a former friend has perjured himself in exchange for a position in Wales, then a backwater, he laments, “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world but for Wales?”
Qureshi’s position is that it would have been an absolute disgrace to ignore his conscience and sell his country’s sovereignty in exchange for the table scraps Pakistan is getting under Kerry-Lugar-Berman.
That Pakistan’s government apparently does not understand that may be the biggest disgrace of all.
The writer is an associate at the Center for Security and Science. He has served in the New Hampshire legislature and as an election monitor in Pakistan. Email: [email protected]