In a development reminiscent of the 2002 standoff, Pakistan has decided not to send its high commissioner back to New Delhi until the overall situation improves and Indian secret agencies stop harassing its diplomatic staff and their families.
“Our high commissioner will not return to India anytime soon,” said a senior foreign office official just hours after Sohail Mahmood returned from New Delhi on Friday.
Initially, it was thought that he would return to New Delhi after consultations with relevant authorities on the continued harassment and bullying of Pakistani diplomatic staff and their families, including children by Indian secret agencies.
The Indian external affairs ministry even played down Pakistan’s move as a routine affair.
However, the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the high commissioner would stay back for an indefinite period or until Indian secret agencies stop intimidating the staff and families of their diplomatic mission in New Delhi.
In other words, Pakistan recalled its envoy to New Delhi as a protest till the situation improves.
Last time, it was in 2002 when the two countries recalled their respective high commissioners in the aftermath of an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001.
It was India, which first withdrew its envoy as a token of protest over Pakistan’s failure to stop alleged cross-border terrorism. New Delhi then expelled Pakistani High Commissioner Ashraf Jahangir Qazi.
However, this time Pakistan took the unprecedented decision to recall its envoy. It is not clear how India will react to Pakistan’s decision.
The official justified the move, insisting that under current circumstances it was not possible for the high commissioner to operate out of New Delhi.
“Children have never been harassed even when two countries have had the worst of relationship,” the official pointed out.
He said the children of Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner were stopped by the agents of an India secret service for 40 minutes on a Delhi’s road. “This is totally unacceptable,” the official said.
When asked whether Pakistan was contemplating withdrawing the families of diplomatic staff, the official said it might have to if the current slide in relationship was not arrested.
Tensions between the two countries have been already running high because of frequent clashes between the Pakistani and Indian troops along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary.
But the latest diplomatic standoff will have far more implications if India also decides to recall its high commissioner from Islamabad.
Pakistani pilgrims denied Indian visas
Simmering tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have now started having a snowball effect on other facets of ties – including people-to-people exchanges.
The immediate fallout of the worsening ties is the decision by the Indian government to bar Pakistani pilgrims from attending the annual Urs of revered Sufi saint Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer Sharif.
As many as 500 Pakistanis, who were supposed to travel to India on March 18, were not granted visas by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
A Foreign Office official said the Indian High Commission didn’t even ask for the passports of the intending pilgrims, meaning they would not be traveling to Ajmer Sharif this year.
The annual Urs is scheduled to kick off on March 19 and continue till March 29.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony had received around 3,000 applications from across the country out of which 500 applicants were selected.
This is the second time this year that India denied visas to Pakistani pilgrims, something an official said was violation of a 1947 pact on the facilitation of religious tourism between the two countries.
In January, 192 Pakistani pilgrims could not attend the annual Urs of Khawaja Nizamuddin Aulia after India refused to grant them visas.
The move was apparently linked to the diplomatic spat ensued soon after Pakistan allowed Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to meet his mother and wife on December 25 last year.
India accused Pakistan of harassing the Jadhav’s family, a charge Islamabad strongly denied.