COMMENT: Everybody hates Raymond —Saroop Ijaz - Wednesday, February 09, 2011

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The disagreements on the construction of the Vienna Convention are completely valid. However, to make absurd demands like, for example, proposing an exchange between Mr Davis and Dr Aafia Siddiqui, are ridiculous

The shooting in Lahore by an allegedly American diplomat Raymond Davis has been the subject of much controversy. The primary focus has rightly been on the legal position governing an incident like this. The diplomatic status of the shooter has not been clarified yet. The extension of the Vienna Convention’s immunity is being debated, although for any concrete determination, the facts surrounding the incident including diplomatic status, self-defence and the criminal antecedents of the shooter and the victims are imperative. There, however, remains a broader question relating to the incident: what would prompt a foreign diplomat to resort to such means (excluding self-defence) in a country with an evidently hostile population?

A study conducted by The National Bureau of Economic Research in 2006 through a Berkeley and Columbia professor, focused on exploring the relationship between illegal car parking by foreign diplomats in the New York City and corruption in their home countries. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, which allowed for the examination of the role of cultural norms of the home country. In essence this means that consular personnel and their families benefit from diplomatic immunity, a privilege that allows them to avoid paying parking fines. The study generated a revealed preference measure of corruption based on real world behaviour of government officials, all acting in the same setting. According to the study, the act of parking illegally fits remarkably well with a standard definition of corruption by Transparency International, i.e. “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”, suggesting that the comparison of parking violations by diplomats from different societies serves as a credible measure of the extent of cultural norms of corruption. The results found persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on the existing survey-based indices) had significantly more parking violations. Incidentally, relevant to current events, Egypt has been the worst offender, racking up 17,633 tickets due to illegal parking by its diplomats in New York between 1997 and 2009 for a total of $ 1.9 million.

The cultural norms of a country affect the behaviour of its foreign diplomats. Equally significantly, the study revealed that officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favourable popular views of the US committed significantly more parking violations than those having more favourable views. This illustrates the role that sentiment, affinity and perception play in economic decision-making and diplomatic behaviour. The seminal point relevant to the Raymond Davis incident is that the perception of the country and its laws where a diplomat is stationed influences his behaviour and inclination to respect and comply with the domestic regulations of that country. A particularly interesting finding of the study mentioned above is that countries with larger proportions of Muslim population experienced particularly pronounced declines in parking violations in the months following the September 11 attacks in New York City.

Mr Davis belonged to a country where the Second Amendment to the constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms. Assuming Mr Davis is a diplomat, his behaviour displays scant regard for Pakistan and its regulations, coupled with the violent gun culture of the US. Excluding self-defence or temporary insanity for the moment, if we consider the question whether Mr Davis would have adopted the same course of action if he were stationed in France, it is reasonable to guess that it is highly unlikely that he would. If robbed in Paris, he would probably not reach for his gun, but rather would have had a criminal complaint registered. However, in a country where vigilantism is encouraged tacitly, rather glorified overtly, Mr Davis decided to shoot two people who had apparently attempted to mug him. He was certainly also aware of the constant grossly generalised venom indiscriminately directed against the Americans as a people. This does not in any way justify the conduct of Mr Davis, and the law should take its course, holding him accountable. It, however, does provide a context in which we as a people and foreign diplomats stationed here must live.

The response to the incident manifests the typical knee-jerk reactions permeating our public discourse. The Foreign Office should clarify his diplomatic status and his permission to carry firearms. He should be prosecuted in Pakistan if he does not have diplomatic immunity. The disagreements on the construction of the Vienna Convention are completely valid. However, to make absurd demands like, for example, proposing an exchange between Mr Davis and Dr Aafia Siddiqui are ridiculous. It is precisely because of such hostage-seeking, human-trafficking reactions that the world in general — and foreign diplomats in particular — choose to view us as mediaeval and our laws as irrelevant. The focus should remain on the factual and legal position surrounding the incident and not degenerate into the usual exchange of conspiracy theories. Mr Davis, if he legally can be, should be investigated for the deaths of three Pakistani citizens. It should not, however, be posited as a crusade against the US. The unfortunate incident in Lahore should be viewed as an opportunity to emphasise our ability as a state and a nation to comprehend, enforce and comply with the laws, both domestic and international, rather than brandishing our imaginary, fragile national ego.

The writer is a lawyer based at Lahore and can be reached at

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