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Pakistan virtually holding US diplomat ‘hostage’ as ties deteriorate

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WASHINGTON: Pakistan is virtually holding an American diplomat hostage after preventing him from boarding a US military plane sent to bring him out of Islamabad, where he is sequestered at the US Embassy while the two sides are locked in a dispute over his diplomatic status and immunity issues.

Fraying ties between once-close allies saw a few more threads snap this weekend after what appeared to be a failed American rescue mission aimed at airlifting Col Joseph Emanuel Hall, a defence attaché at the US Embassy in Islamabad. Hall is accused of running a red light on April 7 while driving an SUV and knocking over a Pakistani national on a motorcycle, killing him.

When Hall’s credentials describe him as a diplomat, thus implying he enjoys immunity, Pakistan is contesting it even as the issue has become mired in local courts. At the very least, if Washington cannot waive the diplomatic immunity to enable him to be prosecuted in Pakistan, Islamabad wants a commitment that he will be tried in the US courts after he returns to America.

However, hardline elements in Pakistan are insisting that he be prosecuted in Pakistan. On Saturday, the Trump administration appeared to have won a reprieve from the more moderate elements in Pakistan who are keen to repair the damage the dispute has caused, and a C-130 military transport plane was sent from Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan to the Nur Khan Air Base in Chaklala outside Rawalpindi, to extricate Col Hall.

But word of the mission was leaked to the Pakistani media, and the jihadi press ran amuck with wall-to-wall coverage of what was virtually a rescue effort. When Col Hall reached the airbase with eight people from the U.S Embassy accompanying him, he was refused permission to board the aircraft, ostensibly under instructions from hardline elements of the Pakistan establishment. The aircraft eventually returned to Bagram.

Both sides have declined to comment on the matter, but the Dawn newspaper reported on Sunday, under the headline ”US diplomat’s bid to fly out of Pakistan foiled,” that the Islamabad high court had a day earlier turned down a petition by the victim Ateeq Baig’s father seeking a direction for the government to put the diplomat’s name on the Exit Control List. Noting that Hall enjoyed diplomatic immunity, the court, however, asked the government to decide within two weeks whether or not Col Hall should be placed on the Exit Control List.

Col.Hall’s credentials, widely reproduced in the media, shows his diplomatic credentials are set to expire on May 31, 2018. The effort seems to be to keep him in Pakistan till that time.

The latest spat comes amid deteriorating ties between the two countries, with both sides restricting the movement of each other’s diplomats in their respective capitals, and the Trump administration seemingly determined to punish Pakistan for its terrorist infractions.

Earlier in the week, Islamabad made a song and dance about the UN Al-Qaida/ISIL Sanctions Committee not approving Pakistan’s proposal to list Umer Khalid Khorasani, aka Abdul Wali, the leader of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, ostensibly because of US objection, although Pakistan itself continues to shield terrorists such as Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar.

Updated: May 13, 2018 — 4:14 pm

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