World News

Pakistan Prevents U.S. Diplomat From Leaving the Country

Posted May 12, 2018 9:21 p.m. EDT

ISLAMABAD — Authorities in Pakistan barred a U.S. diplomat involved in a fatal traffic accident from leaving the country Saturday and briefly detained him for questioning, according to a senior Pakistani intelligence official.

A U.S. military aircraft flown in to bring home Col. Joseph Emanuel Hall, a U.S. military attaché, had to leave without him, the intelligence official said.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said Hall is on a “blacklist” and is not allowed to leave because of the criminal case pending against him.

Hall is accused of involvement in an accident in which his car ran a red light and killed a motorcyclist named Ateeq Baig in the capital, Islamabad, on April 7. Pakistani officials have demanded the United States waive his diplomatic immunity so that he can face a criminal trial, but U.S. officials have refused.

On Friday, Islamabad’s High Court, noting that Hall did not have full diplomatic immunity, left it up to the government to decide whether to add his name to a travel ban list. Also Friday, Pakistan placed travel restrictions on U.S. diplomats based in the country, the latest in a series of retaliatory measures that threaten to plunge already strained relations to their worst level in years.

The restrictions in Pakistan were imposed on the same day that the United States barred diplomats working at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington from traveling outside a 25-mile radius around the city without approval.

The United States has long complained that police and security officials in Pakistan frequently harass U.S. diplomats and their staff with traffic stops and citations that require considerable time and effort to resolve. Six weeks ago, the State Department threatened to impose a travel restriction on Pakistan’s Washington diplomatic corps if the harassment did not end by Friday.

U.S.-Pakistan relations have worsened since January, when the Trump administration announced that it had suspended nearly all of the $1.3 billion in annual security aid given to Pakistan. That came days after President Donald Trump complained on Twitter that Pakistan had “given us nothing but lies & deceit” and accused it of providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

The Trump administration has also sought to strengthen ties with India, Pakistan’s bitter rival.

“This is a development that could well develop into a full-blown crisis for relations if it’s not resolved soon,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “Since Joseph is understood to have diplomatic immunity, Pakistan’s refusal to let him leave the country will be seen by Washington as a wholly unjustifiable and illegal act.”

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad declined to comment on the events of Saturday.

The State Department on Saturday confirmed the new restrictions on its employees in Pakistan but declined further comment.

Idris Baig, the father of man killed in the accident, said in an interview that he was satisfied with the current proceedings.

“We are ready for agreement but on the condition of his arrest,” he said, referring to Hall. “My son will never come back and we will consult with our relatives and village community before negotiating the agreement. So far no government official or U.S. Embassy official has offered us the agreement.”