LAHORE, Pakistan – A judge on Friday ordered the arrest of the driver of a U.S. vehicle that struck and killed a Pakistani while rushing to help an American detained in a pair of fatal shootings, a lawyer for the victim's family said.
The arrest warrant could add to the tensions surrounding the case of the shooter, Raymond Allen Davis. The U.S. insists he was acting in self-defense against robbers and qualifies for diplomatic immunity because he worked for the embassy.
The odds of Pakistani police detaining anyone in the U.S. car are low. Authorities say they do not know who was in the vehicle, and the Americans have said little on the matter, other than acknowledging the car was driven by U.S. Embassy staff.
The judge's order could be a means of pressuring the U.S. to produce the driver, who has not been identified. But it's highly unlikely that any Americans involved in the traffic accident are still in Pakistan. Employees of the U.S. mission who get into trouble are typically on the first plane out of the country.
It's also possible the driver was a Pakistani. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Courtney Beale on Friday declined to comment on the order other than saying the vehicular incident "is under investigation."
Lawyer Asad Manzoor Butt said the family of the struck bystander, Ibadur Rehman, filed a petition with the Lahore High Court seeking to bring attention to his death, which has received far less scrutiny than the deaths of the two men shot earlier Jan. 27 in Lahore.
The court's chief justice, Ijaz Chaudhry issued the arrest order, Butt said. On Thursday, the same court gave Pakistan's government three more weeks to determine if Davis has diplomatic immunity as America maintains.
Pakistan's government is in a tough spot. If it releases Davis, it risks angering violent elements in its population — including the Taliban, who have threatened to attack any official involved in letting Davis go. The ruling party also risks further alienating voters already unhappy with its performance.
In Lahore on Friday, some 200 protesters associated with Jamaat-u-Dawa, a charity alleged to be a front for the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, demanded Davis be hanged.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is blamed in the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, and Pakistan's government insists it has cracked down on it and affiliated groups.
Keeping Davis in prison would anger the United States, which provides Pakistan with billions in aid but also needs its cooperation to take on militants who use its soil to plan attacks in Afghanistan and the West.
The U.S. has begun curbing diplomatic contacts and threatened to withhold aid if Davis is not freed, with President Barack Obama stressing the importance of upholding agreements covering diplomatic immunity.
Davis faces potential murder charges. He is in a Pakistani jail and is on a list barring him from leaving the country, officials said.
The U.S. says Davis is part of the embassy's "administrative and technical staff." That indicates he might have been a security official and helps explain his possession of a gun. Pakistanis have focused on him being an ex-Special Forces soldier who helps run an American "protective services" company.
The U.S. says he is an embassy employee but was on temporary duty at the consulate in Lahore. That has added to the confusion about his status since employees assigned to consulates do not always get the same level of diplomatic protection as those assigned to embassies.