Murder Charges Stoke Pakistani Anger At U.S.

The case of an American who faces murder charges in Pakistan is straining the already delicate relationship between the two countries. Raymond Davis is accused of fatally shooting two Pakistanis late last month. Davis says he fired in self-defense because the two were about to rob him. Host Liane Hansen talks with Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of the Friday Times in Pakistan about strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan over the case of an American charged with murder.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The case of an American who faces murder charges in Pakistan is straining the already delicate relationship between the two countries. Raymond Davis is accused of fatally shooting two Pakistanis late last month. Davis says he fired in self-defense because the two were about to rob him. He and the U.S. government also claim he has diplomatic immunity because he worked with the U.S. embassy there. Pakistan disputes his claim and says he should be tried in a Pakistani court.

Najam Sethi is editor-in-chief of the Friday Times in Pakistan. He's on the phone from London. Welcome to the program.

Mr. NAJAM SETHI (Editor-in-Chief, Friday Times): Thank you.

HANSEN: This past Thursday, a court in Pakistan delayed a hearing into the diplomatic immunity claim until next month. What will the court be taking into consideration?

Mr. SETHI: Well, you know, the tragedy is that all the key players in this drama have really just made a mess of things, beginning with the federal government who couldn't make up its made; the American embassy, which gave out conflicting statements about his status. Everybody has now agreed that in the end the court will have to decide.

HANSEN: The Pakistani people are very angry about this case. There have been demonstrations. How do you think that's going to affect how the government of Pakistan handles the case?

Mr. SETHI: Well, that, I think, one of the reasons why there is a postponement in the court hearing is precisely because there is a great deal of anger on the streets right now. So, I think the government is hoping that either the public will be distracted, the media will be distracted or tempers will cool down and then a rational debate in court can begin.

I have no doubt that at the end of the day a combination of factors will probably come into play. A clear statement by the foreign office of Pakistan saying that Davis does enjoy a diplomatic immunity, number one.

Number two, possibly an agreement with the government and the United States on the one hand and the families of the people who have been killed; to give them some form of compensation, which is allowed under Islamic law.

And, of course, a stout defense plea by a strong lawyer on behalf of Raymond Davis.

HANSEN: So, you think that the U.S. and Pakistan can find almost a compromise solution here?

Mr. SETHI: Yes. I think there is a lot of pressure on the government from the United States, but the U.S. is also backing off now. There were a lot of strong statements to begin with, and I think Senator Kerry's trip to Pakistan has been very constructive. He's understood the mood here and I think he's giving space to the government of Pakistan to find a solution that satisfies all Pakis concerned.

HANSEN: Politicians in the United States, though, have been calling for a cutoff of aid to Pakistan. That's a very important consideration. What would happen if that happened for both countries?

Mr. SETHI: That's not at all possible. Pakistan is a very important strategic partner in the war in Afghanistan, and something like Raymond Davis, this case, is not going to be allowed to derail that whole strategic relationship. You know, this country is constantly coming out with all manner of crises, and this is the latest crisis.

If in the next 15 days there's another big crisis that takes over, takes the front pages, then Raymond Davis will disappear into a black hole, and I think that would be the time when some secret deals can be done between the government authorities, the Americans and the families concerned, to go to court quietly and get a solution that is acceptable to all.

The court is really a post office of sort. There is no legal question involved that the court is going to look into, unless the question of diplomatic immunity is first resolved. And by law, that has to be resolved by the government of Pakistan. If the documents are all in order, there is nothing the court can do. However, if the documents are not in order and the government of Pakistan says that we have problems with this whole issue of diplomatic immunity then there will be a trial and then Davis will have to plead self-defense and then however he'll have to get himself some good lawyers.

HANSEN: Najam Sethi is editor-in-chief of the Friday Times in Pakistan. We reached him in London. Thank you.

Mr. SETHI: Thank you.

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