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US suspends high-level contact with Pakistan
WASHINGTON, Feb 8 (Agencies):
Published on 8 Feb. 2011 11:29 PM IST
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The United States has suspended high-level contacts with Pakistan as ties between the two countries continue to deteriorate over the Raymond Davis affair.
The situation has worsened to such an extent that the Obama administration is reported to be putting a hold on Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s proposed visit to Washington next month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also declined to meet Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich. Agitated US lawmakers have indicated that defense and economic ties, including aid to Pakistan, may need to be revisited.
So what is the Raymond Davis affair? While Washington and much of the world continues to be transfixed by the drama over democracy in Egypt, an ugly sideshow involving spooks and spying in Pakistan is consuming the Obama administration, redrawing the security contours with regards to what was once regarded as a stalwart ally.
Davis, an alleged private security contractor, was on the rolls of the American diplomatic mission in Pakistan when he shot dead two Pakistanis last month in what he said was in self-defense after they attempted to rob him. He has been incarcerated pending legal proceedings despite US demands that he be freed because he enjoys diplomatic immunity.
Washington has now convinced Pakistan that Davis has a diplomatic passport, and although it is stamped with a work visa, he is entitled to diplomatic immunity under international conventions. But the situation in Pakistan appears to have slipped out of government’s control, with anti-U.S interests and pro-American sources each selectively leaking information to inflame public opinion, which is already anti-American.
For instance, it turns out that even as Islamabad is publicly resisting American pressure, a section of the Pakistani establishment has revealed that the two men who were shot were in fact agents of the ISI, its spy agency. Adding to the confusion, the wife of one of the alleged robbers/spies died under mysterious circumstances in a Pakistani hospital after consuming poison, but not before she met journalists and issued a revenge call, demanding “blood for blood.”
Meanwhile, unnamed Pakistani officials also told the Express Tribune newspaper in Lahore that the Pakistani government’s “tough stance” on the whole issue was also a “reaction to the attempts by certain elements in Washington to implicate...the ISI in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks,” including the decision by an American court to summon top ISI officials in connections with the attacks.
The incredible and often acrimonious drama, being played out on the sidelines of the Egypt spectacle, has greatly soured ties between US and Pakistan, with the growing feeling in Washington that its once-famed ally is now turning rogue. There is now a demand in some quarters in Washington to turn off the aid spigot vital for Pakistan’s survival, even as there is pressure on the civilian government in Islamabad to hold to account the United States, whose lifeline to its 140,000 troops in Afghanistan runs through Pakistan.
Some analysts are starting to compare the situation to the one that existed between US and Iran during the hostage crisis.
Matters have reached such a head that the US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter called on President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad on Monday to follow up on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s phone call to him last week to resolve the matter, which has now become more complicated by the latest disclosure and the suicide.
But instead of moving towards a resolution, Pakistan on Monday put three more Americans, accused of driving a vehicle that came to rescue Davis but instead killed a pedestrian in a hit-and-run incident, on an exit control list.
The atmosphere has been particularly exacerbated by the alleged suicide of Shumaila Kanwal, widow of the one of the men shot dead by Davis. Kanwal, 26, reportedly told medics and journalists that she was ending her life in protest at alleged leniency shown towards Davis. “I want blood for blood,” she was quoted as saying after she arrived at the hospital. “The way my husband was shot, his killer should be shot in the same fashion. I need justice.”
Pictures in the Pakistani media showed Kanwal being tube fed and drinking water, but she was mysteriously pronounced dead a few hours later. Soon after, some Pakistani politicians have demanded that Davis and other Americans be tried for her death too. The US mission has declined to hand over the three other Americans accused in the hit-and-run case.
All this now makes it even more difficult for Pakistan’s civilian government to release Davis even if it now transpires, as was reported by the Express Tribune, that the two motorcycle borne men who were killed were ISI agents. An unnamed security official told the newspaper, which is brought out in collaboration with the International Herald Tribune, that the duo belonged to the security establishment and “found the activities of the American official detrimental to our national security.”

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