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Turmoil Over Detained Diplomat Jeopardizes U.S.-Pakistan Dialogue

February 9, 2011 at 7:20 PM EST
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Jeffrey Brown talks to Pamela Constable, a longtime Washington Post reporter in Pakistan, on the brewing tensions between Washington and Islamabad over diplomatic immunity and self-defense in the case of an American diplomat arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And for more on all this, we turn to Pamela Constable, a longtime reporter on Pakistan for The Washington Post. Her forthcoming book is “Playing With Fire,” a study of Pakistan’s struggle with Islamic extremism.

Welcome to you.

The first mystery here is who is Raymond Davis and what exactly he does. What is known?

PAMELA CONSTABLE, The Washington Post: It’s still not exactly clear what his function has been for the U.S. government in Pakistan.

There have been five or six different descriptions of his job title and his responsibilities, but it’s been a bit different each time. It’s been said that he worked out of the consulate in Lahore. It’s been said that he worked at the embassy in Islamabad. He’s been described as a security expert, as a technical adviser, as someone who vetted visas.

Clearly, he was a person who was carrying weapons. I still — I think it still remains to be clarified exactly what his job was.

JEFFREY BROWN: Carrying weapons, carrying a camera, carrying some sort of telescope. So, the — the mystery continues as to what happened exactly on Jan. 27.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Yes.

Well, of course, he has stated, I believe in court, as well as — as to the authorities, that what he — he — he shot in self-defense, that there were men following him who somehow confronted him. It’s clear they were armed, because I think — I believe that, on at least one of their bodies, a weapon was found and ammunition as well.

But I have heard or seen nothing to indicate that there was actually any sort of armed confrontation or that he was shot or that anyone with him or in his vehicle was shot. So, it’s still, again, unclear exactly what provoked him to fire.

JEFFREY BROWN: The obvious conjecture here or speculation is about some sort of espionage or security role that he has.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we don’t know.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: And on both sides.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: I mean, there have been statements by officials in Pakistan that — you know, acknowledging that the men were following him, they were somehow involved in some intelligence operations.

I mean, it’s very common for Pakistani intelligence services to follow people of interest such as this man. That would not be unusual or surprising. What would be very unusual or surprising would be for them to attack him or try to rob him if they were, in fact, agents.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, this question — part of the dispute here is over diplomatic immunity between two national governments, the U.S. and Pakistan, but local authorities have a big role here, right, local courts in Punjab?

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Yes. At this stage, it’s really up to the — both a lower and a higher court in Punjab Province.

They have him, and they have the case before them. The federal government is not directly involved at this point. I spoke with someone today at the Embassy of Pakistan here in Washington who said it’s really out of our hands. It’s up to the courts in — in Punjab to decide whether he does have diplomatic immunity and whether he can be allowed to leave the country.

JEFFREY BROWN: They say it’s out of their hands, but of course, the U.S. is pushing them directly, right?

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Very much so, yes. I mean, obviously, this is something that the administration here would very much like to have this guy home.

JEFFREY BROWN: You know, we saw some bites from people on the street there.

What do you know about how it is playing out in — how big a deal is this in Pakistan, in the media, on the streets? There is a lot of history here, right?

PAMELA CONSTABLE: It’s a very big deal in terms of public opinion in Pakistan.

And, as you say, there’s a lot of baggage there. There have been a number of incidents over the past year, or even two years, of — of security contractors, people either working for or — either Americans or Pakistanis working for Americans in a security capacity, gotten involved in incidents in the street. There have been a couple of cases of shootings. There have been people arrested with weapons.

There’s been a lot of sort of unhappiness in this relationship. There was an incident several months ago in which the identity of a CIA official in Pakistan was revealed by Pakistanis. And he actually had to leave the country as a result of that. So, there has been a lot of unhappy history in terms of the intelligence and security functions of Americans in Pakistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this plays into Pakistani politics, presumably. There are great pressures on — well, I suppose on the president, on President Zardari, his government, but also on the local Punjab authorities.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: I would say mostly on the federal government, because it’s — you know, it’s — it’s a weak government. It’s not a very popular government. It’s very closely allied with the United States.

So, you have got Islamabad officials under a lot of American pressure from a very important ally, partner and donor to — to, you know, bring back an American citizen, whereas you have opposite pressure essentially from the public and — and — and from sort of Pakistani public opinion and opinion-makers to bring him to justice in Pakistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now the — to the extent that this has turned into a diplomatic scuffle here, can you tell how — how much the U.S. is willing to push here, how hard we’re willing to push the Pakistanis?

PAMELA CONSTABLE: I don’t — I don’t know the answer to that.

I think, as you showed in the clip and we have been hearing a lot this week, there have been a lot of noises out of Congress to do something about aid. Obviously, we have a huge aid program in Pakistan. And — and there are members of Congress who would like to see that suspended if this situation is not resolved.

There are a number of really key meetings coming up. You have got — there’s a meeting with the president, who’s supposed to be coming here. There’s an important bilateral meeting on security. There’s an important trilateral meeting on Afghan-Pakistani-American. There’s lots of stuff going on that could be jeopardized by this case.

JEFFREY BROWN: All along the way, they could be applying the pressure.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: That’s right. Mm-hmm.

JEFFREY BROWN: But — and, in the meantime, what is known about the circumstances of how he is being held? I saw U.S. officials have said they’re concerned about his safety.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: I think — I’m sure they’re concerned, but I think that’s probably more of a pro forma concern. I would be very surprised if the Pakistanis would not treat him properly, since he’s known to be an American official. He’s not believed to be some sort of rogue spy.

I mean, he clearly worked for the U.S. government. So, I would think that they would be quite careful with him.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the next step here? I mentioned in our clip a court hearing. Do you know what that means exactly and what happens after that?

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Not exactly, but I do know there’s supposed to be a hearing on the 11th, which is Friday. The Pakistani officials say that, at that hearing, he — number one, he will be there. He will be produced in court.

There will be — they’re expecting a ruling to be made on whether or not he has diplomatic immunity. And depending on the nature of that ruling, then we would see what happens after that.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Pam Constable of The Washington Post, thanks very much.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: You’re very welcome.