ISLAMABAD: US defe­nce attaché Col Joseph Hall involved in a fatal road accident was on Saturday stopped from flying out on an American military aircraft by the Federal Inves­tigation Agency (FIA).

Col Hall had reached Nur Khan Air Base for boarding the aircraft that had come to take him but was not allowed to leave, an official said.

Take a look: Diplomatic licence to kill

The US Air Force C-130 flew into Islamabad at 11.15am from Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Col Hall accompanied by around eight people from the embassy reached the air base around five minutes later for boarding the aircraft.

The FIA officer on duty after finding out that it was Col Hall, held back his passport and sought directions from his high-ups, according to a source. The permission for Col Hall to leave was not granted and the special aircraft returned to Bagram at around 4pm.

American Air Force plane came from Bagram airbase in Afghanistan to take Col Hall who is involved in accident in which one Pakistani died

The diplomat later returned to the embassy. A US Embassy spokesman refused to comment on the matter.

Col Hall last month ran a red light, killing a motorcyclist Ateeq Baig, 22.

Electronic media virtually gave wall-to-wall coverage for over two hours to the US attempt to get Col Hall out of the country after the news broke that a special military aircraft had reached Islamabad to take him.

The Islamabad High Court had a day earlier turned down a petition by Ateeq’s father seeking a direction for the government to put the diplomat’s name on the Exit Control List. The court, however, asked the government to decide within two weeks whether or not Col Hall should be placed on the ECL. The judge also noted that Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides immunity from arrest and detention to diplomats.

The Foreign Office has already written to the US State Department for withdrawal of his immunity. The matter was also discussed during the last visit of US official Alice Wells. But, so far there has been no progress.

Hotline mechanism

In a related development, Pakistan’s Ambassador to US Aizaz Ahmad Chaud­hary said that Pakistan and the United States had established a hotline-like mechanism in Islamabad to redress the grievances that led to unprecedented diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

The mechanism includes a senior official — director general US — from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a senior diplomat from the US Embassy in Islamabad.

“It works 24/7, as somebody is always monitoring the hotline,” said Mr Chaudhary. “The idea is, whenever an incident involving a US diplomat happens anywhere in the country, it should be reported immediately to these people, so that they could resolve it.”

On Friday, Islamabad placed restrictions on US diplomats in Pakistan, as Washington imposed similar curbs on Pakistani diplomats in the US. The restrictions confine the diplomats and their families within the cities they are posted at. Pakistan also withdrew “special facilities” provided to US diplomats.

Apparently, two recent traffic accidents in Islamabad, involving US diplomats further strained already tense relations between the US and Pakistan. A US Embassy security officer, Taimur Peerzada, was briefly arrested when he went to help a US diplomat involved in the second accident.

Anwar Iqbal in Washington also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2018

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