Pakistan PM hints at religious pardon for Davis

Pakistan`s President said Islamabad sought an amicable resolution of issue.

Updated: Feb 18, 2011, 00:38 AM IST

Islamabad: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani suggested on Wednesday that relatives of two Pakistani men shot dead by a US official might pardon the American, but also said it was for a court to decide the man`s fate.

The comments came as US Senator John Kerry visited the country to hold talks with Pakistani leaders aimed at resolving a bitter diplomatic row over Raymond Davis, who shot the two men in a busy Lahore street on January 27.

Speaking to a convention of religious scholars, Gilani stressed the role of the courts in deciding whether Davis, who is in Pakistani custody, has a right to diplomatic immunity.

"Davis also has a lawyer, he will present his case and then the court will decide whether he has immunity or not," the official Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Gilani as saying.

However, Gilani also asked the scholars to help find a solution to the sensitive issue in accordance with Islamic law, under which a victim`s family can pardon a killer in return for compensation.

"Ulema (Islamic scholars) should tell the solution. Either the heirs should give a pardon or ask about `Qisas` (compensation) or the court should decide. We don`t have any role," APP quoted him as saying.

Many Pakistanis remain suspicious about Davis, who was arrested with loaded weapons and a GPS satellite tracking device, and who police have said is guilty of murder. US authorities have been vague as to his role in Pakistan.

Gilani told the religious scholars the government was caught between a public backlash and international anger. "We are facing difficult decisions. There is a political price," Gilani said.

"We are just caught between the devil and the deep sea. This needs wisdom. We will do whatever is in the interest of the country and the nation," he said.

Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and arrived late Tuesday in Lahore, voiced deep regret over the killings. Pakistan plays a key role in the United States` military operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

In a meeting with Kerry, Gilani said that the Davis case should not affect relations between the two countries or their cooperation in fighting terrorism.

Gilani told Kerry that his expressions of regret over the case and the possibility of securing a religious pardon for Davis "should be considered to cool down the rising temperatures in the bilateral relations".

"It was imperative that the Davis issue must not be allowed to make bilateral relations hostage and have impact on the partnership in the on-going struggle against terrorism," a statement from Gilani`s office quoted him as saying.

Later, Kerry also held talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who said the "Davis issue was not as simple as it was sometimes being portrayed", according to a statement from presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

The President said Pakistan was seeking an early and amicable resolution of the issue.

"The President termed it is a complex issue with several dimensions and said all of these had to be taken into account for an amicable resolution," Babar said.

Zardari said the "matter was before the court which has also fixed a date for hearing. Pakistan expects that its judicial processes will be respected."

Opposition leader and former premier Nawaz Sharif told reporters after meeting Kerry that he reiterated his stance that the courts should decide the matter.

Kerry said he hoped that there would be progress in resolving the issue in next few days.

"I look forward in the next few days, hopefully, to finding ways that we all agreed on that we can find in order to resolve this issue that is in front of us," Kerry told reporters at an airbase before his departure from Islamabad.

Meanwhile, Pakistan`s former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was still in his post at the time of the shootings, said on Wednesday that in his view Davis did not have full diplomatic immunity.

Bureau Report