Avoid speaking on US national: Gilani to ministers

Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday put a gag on his ministers barring them from commenting on the case of an American embassy official arrested for shooting down two men, as the issue clouds ties with the US.

Gilani directed federal ministers not to speak about the issue, saying only authorised ministers should comment on the matter if required.

The Prime Minister directive came at the first meeting of his new cabinet, a day after former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi created ripples by claiming that the official Raymond Davis was not entitled to "blanket immunity" as is being sought by the US.

Briefly touching on the issue of Davis in his speech to the cabinet sworn in last week, Gilani said the US official was "involved in the killing of two individuals in Lahore".

He added: "I will only say that the matter is sub-judice and only authorised ministers should make comment, if required."

Reports have suggested that Qureshi was not re-allocated the foreign affairs portfolio after he refused the ruling Pakistan People`s Party`s move to grant immunity to Davis, who was arrested in Lahore on January 27 after he gunned down two armed men he said were trying to rob him.

Gilani also tacitly criticised Qureshi for going public on the issue.

Qureshi, who skipped the swearing-in for the new cabinet after he learnt he had not been reallocated the foreign affairs portfolio, has told the media that the Foreign Office`s records showed Davis was not a diplomat and could not be given blanket immunity.

Without naming Qureshi in his speech at the cabinet meeting, Gilani said in the context of the issue of Davis, "our doors are open to anyone who believes in the party policy and discipline."

"It is late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto`s and (late Benazir Bhutto`s) party, of which we are proud members. The party has made us what we are today. Let`s be guided by party loyalty, not adventurism and playing to the galleries," Gilani said.

Police have rejected Davis` claim of acting in self-defence and charged him for murder. A court has barred the government from handing him over to the US.

Pakistan`s top leaders have rebuffed repeated US demands for Davis to be released on grounds of diplomatic immunity, saying the matter will be decided by the country`s courts.

The row over Davis has taken Pakistan-US relations to a new low and American lawmakers have warned that the stand-off could impact civil and military aid for Islamabad.