Foreign Office authorities are re-examining “travel restrictions” imposed on diplomats, which has become the latest thorn in already strained ties between Islamabad and Washington.
The foreign ministry has decided to review existing protocol for movement of diplomats after the US lodged a strong protest against it and threatened to impose similar restrictions on Pakistani diplomats in Washington.
According to existing guidelines, members of diplomatic missions are required to send to the foreign ministry their requests for visits outside Islamabad and provincial capitals at least five working days in advance.
The guidelines were circulated to foreign missions in January but they were implemented only after the May 2 raid by US Navy SEALs that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
Security officials said the decision to strictly implement the guidelines is meant to seek greater scrutiny of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives, who “broke our trust by operating independently in areas where they were supposed to inform us in advance.”
The Foreign Office memo, available with The Express Tribune, makes it mandatory for diplomats and non-diplomats based in Pakistan to provide details of their passport, areas to be visited, complete address of places, duration of stay, exact purpose of visit, place of stay and names of their hosts to obtain a No-Objection Certificate.
The move led to several incidents in which US diplomats were barred from entering Peshawar for not having an NOC. In one such incident, even US Ambassador Cameron Munter was briefly stopped at the Islamabad airport.
But Foreign Office officials have now acknowledged that the existing protocol for movement of diplomats in Pakistan is not practised in any other country.
They also conceded that, under the Vienna Convention, diplomats are allowed to move in any part of the country.
“Diplomats are our guests so we have to facilitate them,” said a foreign ministry official familiar with the issue.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the Foreign Office was currently “re-examining” its protocol to make sure that diplomats are facilitated in the best
Amendments being contemplated by the authorities include exempting heads of missions from obtaining an NOC for travel.
But changes are yet to be finalised due to reservations by the country’s security agencies, which are adamant that the NOC requirement must be followed to ensure national security.
“Only the US embassy is opposing these guidelines … other missions have no issues and are, in fact, following the procedure,” said a security official, requesting anonymity.
A US embassy spokesperson said that they are working with Pakistani authorities to resolve the issue.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2011.