The Pakistani government is feeling the heat of former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's startling disclosure that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had "forced" him to confirm the diplomatic immunity for US consular staffer Raymond Davis, who is currently in custody on charges of killing two people in Lahore.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday held a meeting to discuss the situation and possible damage control measures after Qureshi's revelation, which has further strained the relations between the two countries, with the US threatening to withdraw the $1.5 billion aid package promised to Islamabad for the war on terror.
Meanwhile, government spokesperson and Federal Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan has denied that "there was any sort of pressure on Qureshi to sign any particular summary or give any statement to suit the US".
"He is making these accusations only because he was not retained as foreign minister in the cabinet reshuffle," she told state-broadcaster PTV, adding that "such statements would only create confusion for the government as well as within the party."
Pervez Ashraf, secretary general of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Parliamentarians, said: "Qureshi should have taken the party in confidence if the Americans were using pressure tactics against him."
Qureshi said on Saturday that Clinton had telephoned "and pushed for giving a statement to confirm the diplomatic immunity of Raymond Davis".
"US ambassador in Pakistan Cameron Munter also called and said that Clinton will not meet me at the Munich conference (Feb 6) if I failed to comply," he said.
"I refused to accommodate the request on the grounds that his diplomatic status was not proven from the foreign office records," Qureshi had told reporters after his farewell visit to the foreign office.
It had initially been reported that Qureshi did not take oath at the Friday swearing in of the new cabinet because he was agitated over the change of his portfolio. However, his latest disclosure has revealed that there is much more to it than what meets the eye.
Raymond Davis was arrested on January 27 in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, after he shot dead two alleged robbers. He said that he had opened fire in self-defence as the armed youngsters were trying to rob him at an ATM machine.
The Pakistani government has refused to confirm the diplomatic immunity for Davis despite repeated US pleas.
In a sign of displeasure, Washington has postponed the dialogue between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan scheduled later this month.