Underlining the chill in India-Pakistan relations, Islamabad has accused New Delhi of allegedly “harassing” its diplomats and their families in India, and threatened to pull them out of the capital if the “intimidation” did not stop.
The charges, detailed in diplomatic correspondence known as note verbale, come after several complaints arose of harassment of Indian diplomats in the Pakistani capital, including hurdles being created for the High Commission to use its residential complex and the High Commissioner’s membership of Islamabad Club being stalled.
Diplomatic sources told The Indian Express that the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had written four note verbale to the Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, alleging specific incidents of harassment of diplomats, their family members and Indian workers in the High Commission.
Sources said that a similar demand was also made to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, with Pakistan threatening to pull out its families from New Delhi.
The note verbale allege a total of 18 incidents “of harassment and intimidation against the officers of the High Commission as well as the supporting staff” over the last week, which have been “brought to the attention of Foreign Secretary H.E. Mr Vijay Keshav Gokhale by the High Commissioner for Pakistan, H.E. Mr Sohail Mahmood and by acting foreign secretary to High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria”.
One of the alleged incidents on March 8 refers to “the morning between 0735-0800 hours, the vehicle (No. 89-CD-138) carrying the school going children of Deputy High Commissioner for Pakistan was followed by two cars from his residence to the British School, Chanakyapuri”.
”On the way both cars continuously obstructed, harassed and stopped the driver and this continued for almost 20 minutes. The driver was forced to get off the vehicle and was intimidated,” the communication claims.
The note verbale alleges that “after the kids were dropped off at the school, the driver was also harassed and told that it was a ‘response’ to what had been done to them”.
A note verbale is prepared in the third person and unsigned, which makes it less formal in nature.
On the other hand, government sources told The Indian Express that Indian officials in Islamabad are being subjected to increased hostility, harassment and intimidation. Sources said that in view of such an atmosphere, many families have returned to India.
According to sources, the Indian High Commissioner lodged a strong protest on February 16, when he met Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, against “multiple acts of hooliganism” against Indian property and personnel.
Sources said that in the intervening night of February 15 and 16, the residential complex in Islamabad, which is still under construction and is opposite the Indian High Commission premises, was raided by Pakistan agencies which expelled all service providers, and later disconnected power and water supply.
Despite the Foreign Secretary’s assurance, power supply was not restored for over two weeks, sources said. Moreover, they said, there has been an undue delay by the Pakistan government in providing clearances for the complex. Indian diplomats continue to reside in different parts of Islamabad, compromising their security and safety, said sources.
According to sources, the Indian High Commissioner’s car was recently stopped by Pakistan’s agencies in the middle of a busy road to prevent him from attending a lunch hosted by the Bohra community in Karachi, where he had gone to attend a literature festival.
“The Pakistan High Commission has brought to MEA’s notice some incidents of alleged harassment over the last few days. These will no doubt be investigated. India makes all efforts to provide a safe, secure and hospitable environment for diplomats to work in. But unfortunately, this cannot be said of Islamabad,” said sources.
“The Indian High Commission in Pakistan has been facing tremendous harassment for long, particularly in the last year. However, Indian diplomats chose to tackle this matter with quiet and persistent diplomacy… In one case, an official’s home was broken into, and a laptop stolen,” sources said.
According to sources, aggressive surveillance, violation of physical space and tailing of officers in dangerous proximity has become a “perennial issue”.
“Agency personnel keep shooting videos of officers, thrusting phones into their faces. Obscene phone calls and messages are constantly received on phones,” sources said, adding that the issue has become “out of the ordinary” in recent months.
Besides, the Islamabad Club is learnt to have stalled the membership of Bisaria, who was posted as High Commissioner last year, without assigning any reason. The matter was resolved after it was raised with Pakistan foreign ministry, said sources.
Sources also said that such incidents had “greatly subsided” on both sides after 2001-2002 but happen as “tit-for-tat actions” in both national capitals. They said that all decisions about missions are taken on the basis of reciprocity.
In July 2016, the Indian High Commission in Pakistan was declared a “non-family posting” and families of diplomats were moved out of Islamabad. Families of Pakistani officials, however, continue to reside in Delhi.
Speaking to The Indian Express, T C A Raghavan, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, said, “The tradition always has been that however bad the political relations between India and Pakistan, the relations between the diplomatic missions and the foreign offices have been good. That has been the case for last decade or so, and it should be maintained.”