The Foreign Office on Sunday summoned US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale to register “a strong protest” against the killing of a Pakistani citizen by a US official in a road accident in Islamabad.
A day earlier, a fast-moving SUV, said to be driven by Col Joseph Emanuel Hall — the defence and air attaché at the US embassy in Islamabad — jumped the lights and hit a motorcycle carrying two men at a traffic signal. As a result, a man, Atiq Baig, died due to a head injury and his cousin Raheel Ahmed suffered injuries.
“The US ambassador was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a strong protest was lodged by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua on the tragic death of the motorcyclist and serious injury to the co-rider in the traffic accident on Saturday that involved a US diplomat,” read the press release issued on Sunday by the FO.
“The envoy expressed his deep sympathy and sadness over the loss of life and assured that the embassy would fully cooperate in the investigation,” the statement added.
The foreign secretary conveyed that “justice will take its course in accordance with the law of the land and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961”.
The US Embassy, in a statement, expressed its “deep sympathy to the family of the deceased and those injured in the tragic traffic accident”.
Baig, 22, was buried on Sunday. A large number of friends, family and area residents participated in the funeral prayers but no government official or prominent political figure was present.
According to the deceased’s uncle, his nephew was a BA student working at a hotel to make money on the side.
PPP demands probe into accident
Meanwhile, PPP has urged a probe into the incident that led to Baig’s death.
PPP MNA Nafisa Shah demanded that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarify the nature of the diplomatic immunity the US diplomat is entitled to.
She said that “the diplomat’s car hitting a young man and resulting in his death is no ordinary matter.”
Saturday’s incident took place in the afternoon on the foothills of the Margallas near the zoo.
Police said that the driver had tried to speed away following the accident but he was stopped at a nearby checkpoint, where police tried to question him.
He, however, refused to get off from the vehicle — a white Land Cruiser.
The area police arrived at the scene and asked the diver to surrender himself. Shortly after, several locals and foreigners arrived on different vehicles and introduced themselves as officials of the US embassy.
Senior policemen then took the defence attaché and his vehicle, as well as a colleague, to the Kohsar police station. They asked the other US diplomats to submit written statements about the incident and the diplomatic status of the suspect. Later, the driver was allowed to leave.
The police, however, impounded the vehicle and took the diplomat’s cards for verification.
Subsequently, a case was registered against the driver under Sections 279 (Rash driving or riding on a public way), 320 (Punishment for manslaughter by rash or negligent driving), 337-G (Punishment for hurt by rash or negligent driving) and 427 (Mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The case was registered on the complaint of victim Baig’s father, who is a watchman at an Islamabad school.
Police advise critics to approach the govt
Several people took to social media to protest against the favourable treatment given to the US diplomat. The police responded in a blog, stating that the accident had taken place at the Damn-i-Koh traffic signal on Margalla Road.
The police followed the due legal procedure and the attaché had diplomatic immunity granted by the government of Pakistan as per Vienna Convention. “If a blogger has objections on handing over of the diplomat to the embassy, he/she may approach the government of Pakistan to withdraw from Vienna Convention,” read the blog posted by the Capital City police.
Third such accident
This is the third road accident in recent years in which US diplomats have hit and killed people in Islamabad, the capital city police said, adding that they got away with it because they had diplomatic immunity.
In July 2010, a US embassy officer attached to the embassy’s Force Protection Department, hit and killed a young man driving a motorcycle on the 7th Avenue.
In February 2013, an administrative assistant at the US embassy hit two motorcyclists with his Land Cruiser near Kohsar Complex at Margalla Avenue. A man was killed and another was injured in the accident.
In November 2010, a member of the US Regional Affairs Office hit another embassy’s vehicle causing damage to both vehicles at Shahrah-i-Jamhuriat near Radio Pakistan.
With additional reporting by Nadir Guramani.