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Case Of Jailed Diplomat In Pakistan Fuels Anger

In Pakistan, a judge in the city of Lahore ordered an American at the center of a delicate diplomatic dispute to be held in police custody another eight days. The jailed American allegedly shot two Pakistani men after he said they threatened his life.

The United States insists he is a diplomat entitled to immunity, but the case has deepened distrust of the Americans and made granting immunity a tall order.

The American, identified as Raymond Davis, was brought to the Magistrate Court in Caant, a posh area of Lahore, in an armored vehicle. Amid tight security, the court opened an hour early, an extraordinary measure to ensure his safety and avoid the glare of the media.

A Show Of Anti-Americanism

The case of Davis has gripped Pakistan's headlines and spilled into the streets in a show of anti-Americanism.

"Oppressor, give us an answer!" the demonstrators cried. "Account for the blood you shed."

It's probably unwise to have every Tom, Dick and Harry with a diplomatic passport. There probably are too many people walking around with diplomatic immunity.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the spot where Davis allegedly shot dead two Pakistanis, who he said were armed robbers. The small gathering, which included many students, took up an ominous chant aimed at Davis, whose drama one newspaper called "an avatar of the Ugly American."

"Hang Davis! Hang him!" the demonstrators shouted.

Davis has been depicted in banners across town as a bloodthirsty "terrorist."

There is talk of "revenge" for the fatal shooting of the two men and the death of a third man who was struck by an SUV reportedly coming to Davis' rescue.

Yasmin Raashid is the secretary general of the Punjab chapter of the party of former cricketer Imran Khan. Raashid says many Pakistanis do not believe Davis is a diplomat as the Americans say, but more likely a security operative along the lines of the much-loathed Blackwater, now called Xe.

"There is a lot of resentment that Blackwater, or whatever security people they are around here in Pakistan ... are trying to undermine our sovereignty," says Raashid. She says it appears that someone like Davis "takes the law into his own hand and shoots to kill."

Rashed Rahman, editor of the Daily Times, says the hostility erupting over the case of the jailed American is an extension of the furor over the blasphemy debate. Rahman's paper was owned by Salman Taseer, the late Punjab governor who was killed by his bodyguard because he sought to reform the country's strict blasphemy laws. Rahman says in defense of Islam, the country's radical right has whipped up an anti-Western fervor.

"And they've got momentum. They are trying to dominate the national agenda. An issue like this is just going to add more ammunition to that anti-American sentiment; and Mr. Davis has provided a most wonderful opportunity to raise the bar even higher and I think the mood on the street is something that needs to be watched," Rahman says. "I'm not saying it's Egypt or Tunisia, but I'm just saying the street, at least the religious right, could explode."

The U.S. Embassy Thursday night reiterated that Davis is a member of its administrative and technical staff and is entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Former U.N. Ambassador Donald McHenry, currently at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, notes that the aid pouring into Pakistan requires an expanded embassy staff, which he says creates problems of its own.

"It's probably unwise to have every Tom, Dick and Harry with a diplomatic passport. There probably are too many people walking around with diplomatic immunity," McHenry says.

Unanswered Questions Raise Suspicion

Many unanswered questions about this case are fueling suspicion. Questions like: What exactly is the job of the jailed American? Why is a U.S. diplomat armed to begin with? And who came to the American's rescue?

The U.S. Embassy declines to comment on these matters.

What the embassy said Thursday night is that the continued detention of the "American diplomat is a gross violation of international law." And that he "was remanded in court without notice to the U.S. government, without his lawyer present, and without translation." In short, he was denied due process.

The diplomatic standoff shows no sign of being resolved soon.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.