Islamabad: Pakistan's former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has accused the Interior Ministry of "mishandling" the case of US official Raymond Davis, who faces trial for killing two Pakistanis, by not letting the matter be confined to his ministry.
"The Raymond Davis case was mishandled because Interior Ministry was made the focal point instead of keeping it confined to the Foreign Ministry," said Qureshi, removed as foreign minister in the recent cabinet reshuffle by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led ruling coalition government.
The Pakistani government has been facing a stand-off with the US administration for not granting diplomatic immunity to Davis despite repeated pleas from America.
Davis, an official with a US diplomatic mission in Lahore, was arrested on January 27 after he shot dead two youths. He claimed to have acted in self-defence as the armed youngsters were trying to rob him at an ATM machine.
In a sign of displeasure, Washington has postponed the dialogue between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan scheduled later this month. The US is also threatening to withdraw the USD 1.5 billion aid package promised to Islamabad for the war on terror.
In an interview with Express TV on Wednesday night, Qureshi admitted that he "failed to understand" the Interior Ministry's decision on the issue and said the subsequent turn of events also suggested that "this mess could have been avoided".
Qureshi was sacked from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's cabinet after he refused to accept the portfolio of Water and Power Ministry in the February 11 reshuffle in protest.
"The case is now in court and let it cross examine the facts," Qureshi was quoted as saying. "It had become a court issue before being brought into the knowledge of foreign office."
He said: "The foreign office was contacted by the US embassy after his arrest and police remand."
Qureshi said it was evident from the record that Davis is not a diplomatic staffer and the same was conveyed to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani in a meeting a few days later.
"I fail to understand why the foreign office has demanded three more weeks from the court to reply on the diplomatic status of Davis because it was crystal clear already," he said, adding that "the character of officers in charge was beyond any doubt".
"The contradictions in the case in this case have been rampant throughout. Even the foreign media carried stories about the exact identity of Davis which further complicated the matter," Qureshi said.
"It will be dangerous to hand him over to US without law properly taking its course," he said referring to the public sentiment on the issue.
"I had advised government in the interest of my party, which is holding power, as well as the national interest," he added.
Qureshi said the government would not be able to face public outrage if Davis was allowed to go free.
"The US should understand that dynamics have changed in this country and it is a democratic regime in power," he suggested.
"If I had met Hillary Clinton at Munich security conference, I might have made her understand the true picture," he said. The US secretary of state refused to meet Qureshi in protest over Davis issue, following which he did not attend the Munich meet.
On February 12, a day after the cabinet reshuffle, Qureshi said that Hillary had "forced" him to confirm the diplomatic immunity for Davis. Federal Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan denied that "there was any sort of pressure on Qureshi to sign any particular summary or give any statement to suit the US".
First Published: Thursday, February 24, 2011, 12:11