US suspends bilateral engagements with Pakistan (Lead)

February 8th, 2011 - 5:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Washington/Islamabad, Feb 8 (IANS) Scaling up pressure on Pakistan for the release of Raymond Davis, arrested for fatally shooting two Pakistanis in Lahore, the US has put on hold high-level bilateral engagements with Islamabad.The Barack Obama administration has suspended all high-level dialogue with key ally Pakistan, The Washington Post quoted US and Pakistani officials as saying.

Davis was arrested after he shot dead two people riding on a motorbike at a busy intersection in Lahore Jan 27. He called up the US consulate after the shooting and a team rushed to help him. The team’s vehicle collided with a motorcyclist, killing him.

The issue has severely strained relations between Washington and Islamabad, the media report said.

The Obama administration has twice summoned Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani for formal complaints and reiterated its demand that Pakistan must recognise Davis’s diplomatic immunity and release him.

The State Department Monday said 36-year-old Davis holds a diplomatic passport and is a member of the “technical and administrative staff” at the US Embassy in Islamabad “entitled to full criminal immunity in accordance with the Vienna Convention”.

The administration and Congress, the statement said, “have repeatedly made clear at the highest levels that this matter must be resolved by the Pakistan government or it could impact other bilateral initiatives”.

Diplomatic sources told the Dawn that the dispute could impact three major events planned this year - President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Washington, the next round of US-Pakistan strategic dialogue and trilateral talks involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi last week postponed a visit to Germany to take part in an international security conference after Washington told Islamabad that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might not be able to meet him because of the dispute, the media report said.

A diplomatic source said the delay in Zardari’s visit planned for next month “would send wrong signals around the world and would also embarrass him at home”.

Similarly, “delaying the strategic dialogue would have serious implications”, he added.

“The US decision to postpone all bilateral contacts can put Pakistan at a great disadvantage during the negotiations,” the source was quoted as saying.

The diplomatic row could impact $1.5 billion of annual assistance for Pakistan.

“…Pakistan has agreed in principle to grant diplomatic immunity to Mr Davis and send him back to the US,” a senior diplomatic source said in Washington.

“But the government (of Pakistan) is scared of political repercussions, particularly after the suicide (by one of the victim’s widow Sunday),” the source added.

Islamabad has put Raymond Davis and three other Americans on a list that prohibits them from leaving the country.

Washington Post quoted a Pakistani intelligence official as saying that the situation was complicated as two men Davis killed were not armed robbers, but intelligence agents assigned to tail him.

This official said the two men intended to frighten Davis as he crossed a “red line” that the official did not further define.

Another Pakistani official said both the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence service (ISI) and the interior ministry’s Intelligence Bureau frequently use motorcycle tails to track the movement of US officials.

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