A United States military attache was barred from leaving Pakistan over the weekend after he was involved in a car accident that ended in a fatality.
On April 7, U.S. military attache Col. Joseph Emanuel Hall allegedly killed a motorcyclist and injured another after running a red light in the capital, Islamabad. Ateeq Baig, 22, was operating the motorcycle and was killed. The passenger riding with Baig was injured.
There were 3,482 people killed in accidents with large trucks in 2015, and 15% of those killed were pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.
According to CCTV footage, the large white four-wheel-drive vehicle ran the light and into Baig’s motorcycle before braking. A rally was held near the site of the crash shortly after the incident, with participants pleading to the government that action be taken. Baig’s father, Mohammad Idrees, was part of the rally, stating that no effort had yet been made by the U.S Embassy to express means of justice or condolences.
On Saturday, Col. Hall was prevented from leaving via an American military plane. He then returned to the Embassy as the C-130 cargo plane he was supposed to be on returned to the U.S. air base in Afghanistan from which it departed. According to The Washington Post, Hall was driven to the airfield with the intention of boarding the plane and leaving Islamabad. After Pakistani security officers became aware of who he was, he was barred from leaving.
Pakistani government officials have formally requested that the United States revoke Col. Hall’s diplomatic immunity as an attache, and Pakistani courts are still reviewing the matter. The Pakistani justice system wants Hall’s immunity to be withdrawn so that he may face a criminal trial, but the American government has refused. However, a conclusive resolution to the matter has yet to be made by either side.
Immediately following Hall’s restriction from leaving the country, formal travel bans were placed on respective diplomats within U.S. and Pakistani governments. The American restrictions require that any and all Pakistani diplomats, as well as their families, must receive explicit permission to travel more than 25 miles from Washington or other cities that house Pakistani consulates. U.S. officials state that these restrictions are in direct response to similar restrictions imposed by the Pakistani government on American diplomats, although “some Pakistani officials called [the restrictions on Pakistani diplomats] offensive and unwarranted,” according to The Washington Post.
The Islamabad high court gave a ruling on Friday claiming that Hall did not have absolute immunity, and then proceeded to leave it up to the government to decide whether Hall should be prevented from leaving. If Hall is not allowed to leave, already present tensions between the Pakistani and American governments could heighten to a critical point.
There are approximately 6 million car accidents in the U.S every year, along with more than 37,000 deaths as a result of those accidents. Pakistan only saw 9100 motor vehicle accidents in 2015-16, with only 4448 reported deaths. In that same year, 37,461 people were killed in U.S. car accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There are fundamental differences between the United States and Pakistani governments, including the frequency and severity of motor vehicle accidents. Yet, both governments do share the inability to come to a conclusion regarding this matter.
According to the WP, Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense and foreign policy analyst, had this to say about the tension between governments: “This is not a wise handling of the situation. I fear the relationship will get worse if serious efforts are not made to improve ties.”