In less than a week’s time, Pakistan has witnessed two instances where foreign nationals’ actions have undermined the law of the land. In the first case, Chinese workers attacked police officers in Khanewal. The second incident involved a US diplomat who broke signal on one of the roads in Islamabad; as a result of rash driving of the latter, two bike riders got injured; one of the injured people died in hospital later. The local people – which have witnessed several instances of foreign nationals violating the law of the land with impunity – have resented both cases. If people are mocking the authorities for their inability to take appropriate measures against foreigners who break the law of the land, they are not wrong entirely. Some of their arguments hold water.

However, it is also true that the authorities have responded carefully, rationally and correctly while handling both the cases. On the one hand, the Chinese workers have been declared ‘persona non grata’; thus they have to leave the country for their misconduct with police. On the other hand, the US diplomat is booked on criminal charges, including murder by mistake and negligent driving. Moreover, arrangements are underway to put his name on Exit Control List (ECL) as well. It seems that he will pay “blood money” or Diyat under Pakistani law to settle the case. While this instance brings back uncomfortable memories of the Raymod Davis affair, the practice is valid under the Pakistani Penal Code.

It is encouraging to observe that in both cases, Pakistan firmly dealt with these two cases. People who question the benefits and immunities afforded to diplomats and foreign nationals need to remember that Pakistan is bound by the same diplomatic convention – the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – as the rest of the world.

While it is true that immunity from criminal jurisdiction does not entitle anyone to take the law of the host country in his/her hands and take the lives of civilians at will, it is also important to realise if Pakistan does not follow the rules set out in the said convention equitable treatment of Pakistani nationals – and especially diplomats – abroad cannot be ensured then. Our citizens on diplomatic missions abroad get the same leeway if any such incident happens.

And comparing the different treatment of Chinese workers and the US diplomat are wrong comparisons in the first place. The Chinese workers were not diplomats; hence neither they nor their actions are protected under the convention. Yet they were treated as per the treaty’s articles by declaring them as persona non grata because they were citizens of an allied nation – the policy of mitigating potential diplomatic spats between partner nations is a necessary one.