Five minutes to 8 pm, the Indian national anthem was played in the Pakistan High Commission lawns while the Tricolour fluttered along with Pakistan’s national flag. With no Indian government’s representative present at the occasion, on stage were Pakistan’s High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood and wife Mahwish.
In the crisp March evening as a cool breeze swept through the lawns, the attendance was thinner than usual — the government’s security establishment stepped up screening by questioning guests attending the event.
As The Indian Express reporter walked towards the High Commission, past barricades manned by Delhi Police, a plain-clothes security personnel asked him the purpose of the visit. After he was shown the invitation card, he noted down the details: name, designation, organisation, address and mobile number.
Security personnel routinely take down car numbers of visitors to the Pak High Commission but this is the first time that several guests had to give personal details. “Many of our guests sent regrets at the last minute for reasons we can understand,” a Pakistan diplomat said. He said that the Indian government had told them that if Hurriyat leadership was invited, there would not be any government representation. “Inviting Hurriyat leaders has been a practice, we couldn’t have discontinued it,” a diplomat said.
Welcoming the guests were Pak envoy Mahmood, his deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah and Defence Advisor Brigadier Chaudhary Amir Ajmal, along with their wives. Conspicuous was a huge contingent from the Chinese embassy — starting from Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui and his wife and several key Chinese diplomats and their families. A Pak diplomat told The Indian Express that 60 guests had come from the Chinese embassy, a sign of their “all-weather friendship”.
While US Ambassador Kenneth Juster was not there, US Deputy Chief of Mission MaryKay Loss Carlson was present along with her colleagues. British High Commissioner Dominic Asquith was also not there but several other British diplomats were seen. The oft-asked question at the reception was: were you questioned or stopped by security guys outside?
Diplomats had a simple response: that their blue CD number plate cars (which show that they are diplomat’s vehicles) were not stopped.
But journalists, businessmen and other members of the civil society were not as lucky.
The High Commission displayed pictures of “achievers from Pakistan” — from Imran Khan holding the cricket World Cup to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Also displayed was a photographic exhibition under the theme of “Colours of Pakistan” based on iconic images captured by noted Pakistani photographer Gulraiz Ghouri.