Pakistan Walks All Over the U.S.

By Joel Brinkley

A few days ago, a senior judge in Pakistan refused to release an American diplomat from jail for allegedly shooting two armed men who were threatening to rob him. The judge threatened to charge the diplomat, Raymond Davis, with murder.

That same day, a bomb exploded in a commercial area of Peshwar. Two people died, 10 were wounded. Peshwar Police Chief Liaquat Ali Khan offered a figurative shrug as he said he had no idea who was responsible for the deadly blast, indicating he had little interest in finding out.

No one stood up to protest that. But outside the courthouse in Lahore, where Davis was being held, dozens of angry protesters raised fists as they held up a banner that declared: "Stop American Terrorism!"

The United States has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in military and civilian aid over the last decade - more than any other nation except Israel. A year ago, Congress approved another $7.5 billion in civilian aid, money that is being disbursed now. And yet, American leaders let the Pakistan government walk all over them.

For years, Pakistan refused even to issue visas for dozens of American diplomats whose jobs were to help Pakistan fight the Taliban and improve the people's quality of life. Without visas, they could not enter the state. Maybe American aid is not as effective as it can be - in part because corrupt Pakistani officials steal a great deal of it - but all the U.S. gets back for its efforts is abuse, and worse.

The fact is, most Pakistanis utterly loath America. A recent Harris poll found that only 21 percent of them considered the United States an ally.

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Davis was driving in Lahore when two men on motorbikes approached with pistols drawn, apparently planning to rob or kill him. Davis was American, after all. Early this week, State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley, discussing the Davis case, noted that the U.S. "had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm.

"And minutes earlier, the two men, who had criminal records, had robbed money and valuables at gunpoint from a Pakistani citizen," Crowley added.

Even after the United States told Pakistan in no uncertain terms that Davis has diplomatic immunity from prosecution, and then demanded his release, Pakistani officials, one after another, threw up their hands and said they had no authority to act. Under the Vienna Convention that governs diplomatic affairs, Pakistan cannot imprison or prosecute a foreign diplomat.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik acknowledged to parliament that Davis did in fact hold a diplomatic passport but added that the government had no intention of interfering with the legal process. As he put it, "we will follow whatever the court says," in reference to "the case of the U.S. citizen involved in the killing of two Pakistanis."

Well, in Punjab, chief prosecutor Khawaja Haris said, "the federal government has to give us a certificate on whether the man has diplomatic immunity or not and whether his diplomatic status is confirmed or not."

Both sides are passing the buck. No one wants to take responsibility for letting Davis go. No one wants to face the possible fate of Salman Taseer, the Punjab prosecutor, assassinated by his own bodyguard last month for standing up against Islamic militancy. Letting a detested American out of jail, even after acknowledging that he is being held illegally, would be at least as offensive to the militants.

As Pakistan's Right Vision News agency put it, officials "in the capital have decided to pass the buck on to the Punjab government, forcing it to take an unpopular decision of succumbing to the U.S. pressure - or pay for annoying Washington politically and diplomatically." But The International News newspaper bluntly declared in a headline: "Raymond Davis has committed a terrorist act."

While this stalemate drags on, and Davis languishes in jail (you can only image the miserable conditions in a Lahore prison) Pakistani officials remain utterly blase about even greater human rights abuses happening all around them each and every day.

Late last month, Human Rights Watch issued its annual report on Pakistan. It noted that "suicide bombings, armed attacks and killings by the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their affiliates targeted nearly every sector of Pakistani society, including religious minorities and journalists, resulting in hundreds of deaths" with "the covert support of the intelligence services and law enforcement."

So Pakistani security officials aid and abet militants who are killing hundreds of innocent Pakistanis. That's not news. But given these facts, how can the Pakistani government stand by and allow the illegal imprisonment of an American who was only trying to defend himself?

Equally important, why does the U.S. keep throwing money, billions upon billions of dollars, at a state that does virtually nothing for us but revile and abuse our people.

Joel Brinkley is the Lorey I. Lokey professor of journalism at Stanford University, a position he assumed in 2006 after a 23-year career with the New York Times.

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