By Arun Kumar
Washington-The US decision to arrest and strip search Indian diplomat Devyani Khobrgade on charges of visa fraud, sparking a major diplomatic row with what it calls an “incredibly important” partner, a case of classic American double standards?
It would appear so going by at least two recent cases relating to Saudi Arabian and Russian diplomats.
At Thursday’s State Department press briefing, spokesperson Marie Harf had no clear answer to the difference in the treatment of Khobragade and “Saudi diplomats who allegedly committed even more egregious crimes.”
According to the questioner, two Filipino women were rescued escaping the Saudi diplomatic military attaché’s residence in a Washington suburb. But “no Saudi diplomats have been charged, none of them have been cavity-searched.”
All that Harf could say in response was that she “was not aware of all the details of that case” and didn’t “want to make a comparison about why something was or wasn’t done.
“Each case is different, though,” she suggested. “Obviously, we take any (such) allegation very seriously and we investigate them when they’re brought to our attention.”
But the case against the Russians really takes the cake particularly since it took place in the very borough Manhattan’s India-born US attorney Preet Bharara, who has brazenly defended his actions against Khobragade as based on the principle of equality before law.
His office’s “sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law – no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are,” he said.
It took his office ten long years to make a case against 49 Russian diplomats and their spouses charged with scamming Medicaid, a government health care programme for low-income families, out of $1.5 million over a decade. All of them worked in New York either at the Russian mission to the UN, the Russian consulate or the Russian trade representation office when they committed the alleged fraud.
But Bharara could not lay his hands on any of them. For by the time he filed charges just a week before he chose to act against Khobragade, only 11 of them remained in the US. But none has been taken into custody as they all have diplomatic immunity.
Ten of them are diplomats working with the Russian mission to the UN and their spouses, and one is now stationed at the Russian embassy in Washington. But at the time of the charged offences, he was employed at the consulate in New York.
Harf Thursday suggested that Khobragade, who has been transferred to India’s permanent mission to the UN, would not have “retroactive” immunity after her change of status from consular officer to diplomat. If so, how come, the Russian diplomat working in Washington is roaming free when the offence he is charged with took place when he worked at the Russian consulate in New York?
“Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country,” said Bharara at a press conference announcing the charges which have next to no chance of moving forward.
But Harf was more circumspect in saying they were still “reviewing the charges” and “the relationship is much bigger and deeper and broader and more complicated than that.”
Like in Khobragade’s case, Bharara’s actions sparked outrage in Russia.
Rejecting the charges, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Moscow had many claims against the behaviour of US diplomats in Moscow but had preferred not to bring them into the public sphere.
It has been two weeks since the charges were filed against the Russians. But to date Moscow has not waived their immunity nor has Washington asked them to leave!
Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin
Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.
The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.
Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.
Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.
Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.
Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told
The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.
The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.
Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.
DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.
The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.
The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.
But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.
Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.
It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.
Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus
New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.
Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.
The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.
According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.