Nearly three months after Pakistan unilaterally stopped postal exchange with India in the wake of abrogation of Article 370, the Director General of Pakistan Post has issued orders to restore the service, but only “to the extent of letter mail and Express Mail Service (EMS) documents”. India Post, however, says that it is yet to be apprised of any such decision.
The development from Pakistan comes days after India shot off a letter to the Universal Postal Union (UPU), a UN agency that regulates international postal exchange across the globe with its headquarters at Bern in Switzerland, apprising them of “unilateral” decision taken by Pakistan on August 23 “without serving any prior notice” and “defying UPU norms”.
On August 23, the customs and postal departments of Pakistan had issued ‘internal’ orders stopping postal exchange with India. Union Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had called move to be “in direct contravention of international norms”. Following this, the exchange of mailbags came to a complete halt on August 27. The India-Pakistan postal mail was exchanged via Saudi Arabia air-route due to the lack of a direct flight between the two countries.
Why is it not business as usual?
Pakistan has restored ‘EMS services’ with India only for documents and letters. Before Pakistan stopped postal exchange with India, both countries were allowing maximum of 30 kg of shipments to be exchanged via EMS (Express Mail Service), as per the India Post site. This included merchandise, products along with documents. But now only documents will be allowed. EMS is an international postal mail service network which is regulated by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) for speedy delivery of documents and merchandise and connects 192 member countries of UPU worldwide. In simple words, it is an ‘International Speed Post and the fastest cross-border postal and shipment delivery service’. It claims to have ‘the largest delivery network worldwide supported by postal delivery network’.
It was for the first time since Partition that postal mail exchange was stopped between the two neighbours. The Indian Express had reported it first on September 28.
On Wednesday, a senior official from Pakistan postal department told The Indian Express, “The postal service with India has been restored but only to the extent of letter mail and Expres Mail Service (EMS)(documents only) exchange. Post offices in Pakistan have been directed to start bookings for India-bound letters and documents.”
The source added, “Few days back too similar orders were issued, but they were again withheld by Pakistan government due to some reasons. However, now they have been dispatched to post offices. Parcel and merchandise exchange with India still remains banned.”
Confirming that the orders had been received, Aqleem Hussain, chief postmaster, Rawalpindi post office, said, “We have received the orders and bookings for India-bound letters and documents are now open.”
No intimation, says India Post
Meanwhile, Tanweer Qamar Mohammad, Deputy Director General (DDG), International Relations and Global Business, India Post, told The Indian Express that they were yet to receive any official communication from Pakistan in this regard and that any further decision in this regard will be taken only after directions from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
He added that India Post had written to the Universal Postal Union (UPU) some days back, apprising them of the ‘unilateral’ decision taken by Pakistan.
“We haven’t received any official communication from Pakistan on restoring the postal services. Any further decision in this regard will be taken after directions and in consultation with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Also, we had taken action and written to the Universal Postal Union (UPU) apprising them of this unilateral decision taken by Pakistan and how they defied UPU norms by not giving us any prior notice or even informing us via direct communication,” said Mohammad.
As per the Convention Manual issued by the International Bureau of the UPU in 2018: “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.”
According to DDG Mohammad, India wasn’t given any prior notice by Pakistan before suspending postal exchange. “On August 23, the customs and postal departments of Pakistan issued an internal order stopping the postal exchange with India and handed its copy it to the 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 the copies of those orders to our representatives, given to them by Pakistan side following which the exchange completely stopped from August 27. We haven’t received any direct notice or any communication from Pakistan. It was a completely unilateral step from their side.”
Other than the UPU norms of which both neighbours are members, there are three bilateral agreements which regulate postal exchange between both countries. The oldest one is Exchange of Value Payable Article, 1948 followed by ‘Exchange of Postal Article, 1974’ and ‘International Speed Post Agreement, 1987.’
Sources in India Post say that according to these agreements too, a prior notice has to be served before suspending services.