Friday, 18 February 2011 12:45
The PPP government has been speaking with different voices on Shah Mehmood Qureshi's ouster as foreign minister. Senior party leaders and ministers fired a barrage of criticism against Qureshi following his refusal to accept the offer of water and power ministry, and his public statement that after consulting people in the Foreign Office he did not think Raymond Davis, the American who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore, enjoyed blanket immunity as a diplomat. He was taken to task for not accepting the party leadership's decision to change his portfolio. The newly appointed Information and Broadcasting Minister Firdaus Ashiq Awan criticised him for 'creating a bad environment' regarding the Davis immunity issue. Awan even evoked ridicule - she was a member of the party General Musharraf patronised, PML-Q, until shortly before joining the PPP - as she took a personal dig at Qureshi alleging that he had left the cabinet because he was upset over the issuance of non-bailable warrants against the former dictator. All accused him of violating party discipline.
It is not lost on anyone that the issue at the heart of the storm is Raymond Davis' immunity; which has become extremely sensitive, both for its internal and external repercussions. Declaring an open season on Qureshi has not enhanced the party's public image, in fact, it has had the opposite effect. Still, the PPP Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab managed to put herself in the middle of a fresh round of heated debate on the subject. She insisted at a Karachi Press Club meeting on Monday that as per Pakistan's own law, which had incorporated both the 1961 and '63 Vienna conventions dealing with diplomatic immunity, Davis enjoyed diplomatic status and was therefore immune from any proceedings/prosecution in Pakistan. However, better sense prevailed in Islamabad where presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar tried to calm things down, saying "Fauzia's statement is neither party policy nor government policy." It was hardly convincing though that she would have gone, on her own, to such great lengths as she did to make a case for Davis' immunity.
Matters between Qureshi and the party seem to have been resolved, with both sides having made conciliatory noises about each other. More importantly, the presidential spokesman iterated the party's "unambiguous and quite clear" position, saying that the issue is before the court and it is imprudent to comment on it. In fact, at least a week before the discipline violation controversy surfaced, both President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani had publicly stated that the Raymond Davis case is sub judice and hence people should refrain from commenting on it; and that the court decision had to be respected. Hopefully, the ministers and party officials would now pay heed to their leadership's stated position and desist from offering any observations on the merits of the case or offering half-baked legal opinions until the court announces its verdict.