Regardless of the provocation or the sequence of events, there is an urgent need for India and Pakistan to address allegations of harassment of each other’s diplomats and interference in High Commission work. While surveillance of diplomats by intelligence agencies in New Delhi and Islamabad is not new, matters have escalated in the past month, and the treatment of diplomatic officials by both sides has dropped to new lows. The spark for this round of ‘tit-for-tat’ actions appears to be an incident in February, when alleged ISI agents roughed up Pakistani construction workers headed for the Indian mission’s new building site in Islamabad. While Pakistan’s foreign office claimed they did not have security clearance to enter the diplomatic zone, India saw it as an attempt to stop the work, adding that power and water connections were tampered with. Then, the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi claimed that Indian security personnel warned repairmen and electricians against entering its premises. Both missions said personnel were being targeted on the road, with cars stopped and drivers intimidated. Other instances on both sides include obscene phone calls, stoppage of milk and newspaper delivery to diplomats, and even 3 a.m. doorbell rings.
The timing is clearly more than just coincidence, and the incidents mark a deliberate policy by India and Pakistan to give their intelligence agencies a carte blanche to target the other side. It is unfortunate that things have come to such a pass, weeks after the two countries agreed to humanitarian measures for prisoners, with Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif accepting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s proposals on the issue. The allegations of harassment are more serious than just shadow-boxing, and must be checked in order to avoid a further slippage in ties. They constitute technical violations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) and the subsequent Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), which clearly state that a diplomatic agent’s person, premises and property are inviolable and must be respected and protected by the “receiving state”. The fear is that as a next step in this spiral, India and Pakistan may even take stronger measures, including sending back diplomats or scaling down their missions. India had declared Islamabad a non-family post in the wake of the terror attack on an army school in Peshawar; Pakistan may now follow suit by withdrawing its families from Delhi. At a time when bilateral dialogue has been stalled for years, and ceasefire violations are becoming the norm on the Line of Control, any escalation will impact the few lines of communication that remain. Cooler counsel must prevail.