Will S. Arabia broker a deal to repair Pakistan-US ties?

March 15, 2011

With the U.S.-Pakistan dispute over CIA contractor Raymond Davis stuck in Pakistani courts, newspapers are reporting that the two countries’ common ally, Saudi Arabia, may step in to defuse the deepening crisis between them.

The high court in Lahore, where Davis shot dead two people in what he said was an act of self-defence in January, on Monday declined to rule on whether he  has diplomatic immunity. The court referred the question of immunity to a criminal court which is dealing with murder charges against him.

Given Pakistan’s cumbersome legal system which takes years to resolve disputes, something which both the United States and Pakistan would like to avoid, Pakistani newspapers say  Saudi Arabia is playing a behind-the-scenes role to find an out of court settlement.

“All eyes on Saudi role in resolving Davis row,” read a headline in daily The News on March 9. 

According to the report, the Saudi government would try to resolve the issue in line with Qisas — an Islamic injunction which allows the settlement of murder cases through payment of blood-money to the relatives.

The News said Marc Grossman, the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan who replaced Richard Holbrooke, discussed the issue of payment of Qisas with Saudi authorities on the sidelines of an international conference in Jeddah earlier this month.

Titled “Saudi ambassador comes up with ‘Raymond offer’, daily The Nation reported that Saudi envoy to Pakistan, Abdul Aziz bin Ibrahim al Ghadeer, discussed the issue separately with Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik last week.

Quoting unnamed “informed sources”, the paper said the Saudi government had offered to take the families to Mecca for a religious pilgrimage in an attempt to persuade them to accept the blood money in return for pardoning Davis.

The paper said a senior Saudi official neither confirmed nor denied the reports and said, “There are certain things that can’t be commented on, not even tentatively.” The government is tight-lipped over these reports though Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was quoted as saying that Saudi role could not be ruled out if issue was to be resolved through Qisas law.

The Davis case has fuelled anti-Americanism in Pakistan and the weak government of President Asif Ali Zardari has been under tremendous pressure, particularly from hardline Islamist groups, to put Davis on trial for murder despite U.S. assertions that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

The case has also strained relations between the CIA and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which says it was unaware Davis was working in Pakistan.

But despite rising anti-Americanism and the ISI’s grievances, many analysts believe the issue can be resolved if the Saudi government, venerated as the custodian of Islam’s two holiest places, intervenes.

“The military is miffed with the CIA for taking them for a ride but they also realise the gravity of the situation if the standoff between Islamabad and Washington continues,” The News quoted a diplomat as saying.

“It is the clergy which has the street power but once the Saudi clergy prevails upon the mullahs here, a lot of give and take can take place.”

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