India issued another note verbale to Pakistan on the continued harassment of Indian High Commission officials, including two incidents on Saturday. According to the note — India’s second formal protest in two days — Indian diplomats had been subjected to “aggressive surveillance and harassment,” as the month-old diplomatic spat intensified.
Caveat on envoy’s return
Meanwhile, Pakistan said it would skip a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting in Delhi beginning Monday. Sources also said Islamabad would not send High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood back to Delhi until the diplomatic row was resolved.
According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mohammad Faisal, Islamabad had not confirmed the participation of its Commerce Minister for the WTO meeting on March 19-21, as he had some “health issues.”
“Once the problems began, we decided to wait and watch,” Dr. Faisal told The Hindu , referring to incidents of alleged harassment and surveillance of Pakistani diplomats in Delhi. Pakistani diplomatic sources also said on Saturday that there would be no representation at the WTO meeting from the Delhi mission either.
India’s note of protest, the 12th this year, said Indian High Commission officials had been subject to “intimidation and harassment,” with incidents on March 15 and 17 highlighted, when the officials were followed aggressively by men on a motorbike, and when officials were abused publicly in a shopping area. “We have asked the Pakistan Government to investigate these incidents,” sources said.
Sources in Islamabad told The Hindu that High Commissioner Mahmood, who was recalled on Friday, would remain there there for an “indefinite period”. Responding to the decision, an Indian official said the Pakistani decision was “posturing” especially given that it was Pakistan, not India, that was the “aggressor in the recent incident.”
According to Dr. Faisal, Mr. Mahmood and the Foreign office will begin discussions on Sunday on the next step. When asked about the possibility of recalling more diplomats, or declaring New Delhi as a “non-family” station as India has declared Islamabad, Dr. Faisal said, “All options are on the table, but we hope that we can restore the situation to [that] before the trouble started.”
However, when asked if India was considering a similar recall of its High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria, diplomatic sources said no such action was contemplated yet, and attempts were on to “settle the situation calmly.”
Attack at compound
The issue has escalated since February 16, when the Indian High Commission said workers at a construction site in the Indian diplomatic compound were roughed up by alleged officials of the Inter Services Intelligence. “The ISI raid on Indian premises crossed a red line,” said a senior official, who also criticised Pakistan for taking up its grievances publicly, while India had raised the issue through diplomatic channels. Pakistan has accused Indian intelligence officials of tailing and forcibly stopping their cars, including one carrying school children last week.
(With inputs from Mubashir Zaidi in Islamabad)