US suspends high-level talks with Pak over diplomat issue Tensions over Davis’ shooting hit new heights

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Washington, DC: The US has suspended all high- level dialogue with Pakistan to put pressure on Islamabad to release a US diplomat detained on possible murder charges, as the ties between the two countries have become severely strained over the issue.

The case of Raymond Allen Davis, who fatally shot two Pakistanis, who threatened him, may scuttle a proposed tri-nation summit between US, Afghan and Pakistani leaders scheduled to be held here on February 24, Washington Post reported.

The other major events which may face a freeze could be President Zardari’s visit to US in March, following the summit and the next round of US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, Dawn reported.

The US administration has twice summoned Pakistani envoy here Hussain Haqqani to the White House to stress on Davis’ diplomatic immunity and demand his  release.

The message was repeated by US Ambassador in Islamabad Cameron Hunter in his meeting with President Zardari.

The State Department has said that Davis, 36, holds a diplomatic passport and   is a member of “technical and administrative staff” at the US Embassy in Islamabad “entitled to full criminal immunity in accordance with the Vienna Convection.”

Davis was arrested in Lahore last month and has been detained ever since.

The Davis affair is not   just about international politics, however. It is exacerbated by the rivalry between the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim Leage-Nawaz (PML-N) faction, which controls Punjab where the January 27 incident took place.

The PML-N appears to be using Davis to place the PPP in a losing position by jailing him and putting him before the Lahore High Court, which former US Ambassador Anne Patterson called “unpredictable and anti-American” in a February 2010 cable revealed by WikiLeaks.

If the Foreign Ministry declares Davis to have diplomatic immunity and calls for his release, the PPP will bear the brunt of popular fury at what Pakistanis see as yet another violation of their sovereignty.

But if it allows the Lahore High Court to move ahead with double murder charges, it will infuriate the United States and endanger billions of dollars in aid money now controlled by a Republican House of Representatives.

In either case, the PML-N will score points off the PPP with its supporters and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s government will suffer another blow.

What is likely to happen?

On February 11, Davis is due to appear in court. It is unlikely he will be released that day, but longtime members of Pakistan’s diplomatic corps and foreign envoys believe he will be eventually released after the PML-N has inflicted enough damage to the PPP government.

“This whole case has acquired a public dimension and a lot of emotion,” said Shamshad Ahmad Khan, a former ambassador to the United Nations and former foreign secretary. “The people have now made it a problem of sovereignty, humiliation and all sorts of issues.”

As for when Davis would be released, it is hard to say. Khan believes the federal government will try to let the public anger cool and then quietly release him. But he had no idea when that would be.

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