Jalees Hazir The murder of two citizens in Lahore by an American, who claims to be a diplomat, and the death of another after he was hit by the rashly-driven vehicle dispatched by the American Consulate to save its man, have once again brought to the fore questions regarding the activities of the American diplomatic mission in Pakistan. Obviously, there is more to it than meets the eye. The American government, after creating confusion about the identity of the murderer and announcing that it would cooperate with the Pakistani authorities, is now insisting that the trigger-happy cowboy be handed over to them. A statement released by the American Embassy in Islamabad says that the murderer has been illegally detained as he identified himself as a diplomat and requested immunity under the Vienna Convention. It says that the local police and senior authorities should have contacted the American Consulate in Lahore or their Embassy in Islamabad, instead of arresting him. This new American position is not only absurd, but it is also unacceptable to the Pakistani public that wants to see the beefy American hanged in the very square where he shot two young men and captured their death on camera. To begin with, there is confusion about the status of the murderer and his assignment in Pakistan. It has been reported that he holds a visit visa and though he tried to pass himself off as a technical adviser working with the American Consulate in Lahore, the Consulate has not been forthcoming about what exactly his job entailed. Even if he qualifies as a diplomat, it obviously did not give him the immunity to carry unlicensed weapons and kill people. The American diplomatic mission in Pakistan, it appears, would like to stretch the concept of diplomatic immunity to give protection to an assortment of dubious individuals associated with it for whatever crime they commit. While asking Pakistan to allow its citizens what virtually amounts to freedom to kill in the garb of diplomatic immunity, the American mission seems least interested in keeping their end of the diplomatic bargain. In the present case, for instance, the murderer had not informed the local police about his movement, something he was supposed to do under the law. More importantly, the American Consulate in Lahore has so far refused to hand over the vehicle and its driver that crushed another citizen to death and injured a dozen other people, as it rushed to the rescue of the murderer. Clearly, the arrogance of the American mission is aimed at winning an above-the-law status for itself and its agents. And it is high time that the government put its foot down and draw some red lines. Incidents had earlier been reported in the media where self-proclaimed American diplomats had been caught flouting the law and were let off by Pakistani officials without even a rap on the knuckles. In the last two years or so, reports of American nationals caught driving cars with fake number plates, carrying illegal weapons, refusing to stop at naakas or prove their identities when stopped, hitting and running, intimidating and threatening Pakistanis have frequently appeared in the media. The spineless subservience of Pakistani authorities, who did not take any action against such illegal activities in the face of pressure from the American Embassy, have been criticised. As most of these incidents occurred in Islamabad, the federal government rightly got most of the flak. However, in at least one incident in Lahore, the Punjab government also came to the rescue of a self-proclaimed American diplomat, who had refused to prove his identity at a naaka. How the Shahbaz Sharif administration handles the present case will demonstrate how different it is from the PPP government when it comes to accepting the badmashi of Americans. It would be naive to treat the present case in isolation and ignore the context in which such American high-handedness is being perpetrated. It is important to take into account not only the attitude of the American mission to similar, though less violent, incidents reported in the past, but also the gamut of activities that the United States feels it can undertake all over the world in the garb of diplomacy. Questions have been raised in the past about the large number of visas issued to American nationals without fulfilling basic requirements. A large number of illegal arms were recovered from the premises of a private security company working with the American Embassy in Islamabad and involved in hiring and training retired armymen at a location that was officially declared to be used for another purpose. Unfortunately, no satisfactory answers have been given so far. It is high time these dubious activities are probed and appropriate action taken to curb them. To begin with, the American mission should be asked to submit a list of all the individuals associated with it and the exact nature of their assignments. The granting of visas to American nationals should only be done after detailed scrutiny. The cases of those granted visas without fulfilling requirements should be reopened. The American diplomats stationed in Pakistan should be asked to strictly follow the rules and protocol and be barred from indulging in activities that do not conform to their status in the country. It should be made clear that they are not allowed to carry arms or flout other laws under any circumstances. Unless the government takes strict notice of the illegal activities of individuals under the umbrella of the American Embassy, the entire brigade of diplomats and agents that it protects will feel encouraged to behave like cowboys in the Wild West. The failure of the government to check earlier incidents of lesser lawlessness by American nationals claimed by the American mission is to blame for the recent incident in Lahore. Observers had warned then that the recurring incidents were being staged intentionally by the American mission to make the government accept their agents as being above the law, and to create the public perception that they could do whatever they like. Are we seeing part two of the plan where they actually go around shooting people and crushing them to death on roads? Certainly, this kind of behaviour cannot be allowed, whether the murderer is a CIA agent or a diplomat. The writer is a freelance columnist.