In a unilateral decision, Pakistan has stopped exchange of postal mails with India since August 27 (The Indian Express, September 28). Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said Pakistan’s decision was taken “without any prior notice” and “in direct contravention of international norms but Pakistan is Pakistan”. A look at the rules governing postal exchange, and how Pakistan took the step:
Who regulates postal exchange between one country and another?
The United Nations’ Universal Postal Union (UPU) frames rules for international mail exchange, and fixes rates for international postal services. The UPU has 192 member-countries and is headquartered in Bern. Constituted in 1874, the UPU has four units: the Congress, the Council of Administration, the International Bureau, and the Postal Operations Council. It regulates 6.40 lakh postal outlets worldwide. India joined the UPU on July 1, 1876 and Pakistan on November 10, 1947.
What has mail exchange between India and Pakistan been like?
Before Pakistan’s move, mailbags were being exchanged almost daily. With no regular, direct flight connectivity between the two countries, mail was being routed through the Saudi Arabia air route. In India, all international posts are handled through the 28 Foreign Post Offices, with those in Delhi and Mumbai designated to handle mails for Pakistan. “The mailbags of both countries were exchanged at airports after a customs check,” a senior India Post official said. They were also exchanged via land route on zero line at Attari-Wagah border.
Other than the UPU, three agreements cover postal exchange between India and Pakistan — Exchange of Value Payable Article, 1948; Exchange of Postal Article, 1974; and International Speed Post Agreement, 1987.
Can one UPU member-country unilaterally stop postal exchange with another?
Under UPU rules, when a country decides to suspend exchange with a country, it must notify the operator of the other country (in India’s case, India Post) and, if possible, the duration for which services are being stopped. The UPU’s International Bureau too has to be notified.
The International Bureau issued a Convention Manual in 2018, in which Article 17-143 details ‘Steps to be Taken in Event of Temporary Suspension and Resumption of Services’. “If services are temporarily suspended, the designated operator or designated operators concerned must be notified of the fact by telecommunications, indicating, if possible, the probable duration of the suspension of services. The same procedure shall be applied when the suspended services are resumed,” the Manual reads. It adds, “The International Bureau must be notified of the suspension or resumption of services if a general announcement is considered necessary. If necessary, the International Bureau shall notify designated operators by telecommunications. The designated operator of origin shall have the option of refunding the postage charges, special charges and air surcharges to the sender if, owing to the suspension of services, the benefit accruing from conveyance of the item in question was obtained only in part or not at all.”
According to the three bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan, too, a prior notice has to be served before suspending services, sources in India Post said.
So, did Pakistan skip the UPU protocol?
India was not given prior notice when Pakistan suspended postal exchange, said Tanweer Qamar Mohammad, deputy director general, International Relations and Global Business, India Post. Even two months later, India is yet to receive a direct communication. Pakistan only handed over a copy of an internal order to airline operators, which handed them to Indian representatives, Qamar said.
“On August 23, the customs and postal departments of Pakistan issued an internal order stopping postal exchange with India and handed its copy it to airlines. They suddenly stopped picking Pakistan-bound mailbags and asked us to take them back. Similarly India-bound mails were not given to us. Airlines handed copies of those orders to our representatives, given to them by the Pakistan side, following which the exchange stopped completely from August 27,” Qamar said.
An India Post source added: “India is also unaware if Pakistan has notified the UPU about suspension of postal service with India. Their internal orders do not specify any reason for the decision either. We haven’t received any communication from the UPU either.”
What is the current status of mails?
India Post, too, has now stopped taking new bookings for Pakistan-bound mails. “We do not have the space or logistics to take care of packets that become a responsibility,” an official said. He said the department is waiting for directions from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Communications on the next step to be taken.
From Pakistan, Ihsan H Nadiem, chief editor of the magazine Punjab Dey Rang, said he had mailed 70 copies to the Indian side. “All our copies were returned by the postal department here and also a note in Urdu was written on it saying that postal exchange with India has been stopped. They have also refunded our money. They aren’t taking any bookings now.”
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