Row worsens: India tells its diplomats not to leave enclave after Pakistan recalls High Commissioner

By Prarthana Mitra

Ties between India and Pakistan seem set to worsen, after both countries claimed the other was harassing their diplomats. Pakistan has now recalled its high commissioner in India for “consultations” over the alleged harassment of its diplomatic staff in Delhi, a move India called “normal and routine”. However, hours later, India asked its diplomats, diplomatic staff and their families in Islamabad not to venture outside the diplomatic enclave unless absolutely necessary.

Sohail Mahmood’s return to Pakistan is said to have been result of at least three alleged instances of Pakistani officials and their families in India facing harassment at the hands of India’s secret agencies.

Pakistan claims that several children of its diplomats had been “intimidated and threatened on their way home from their school” in Delhi, while India says its diplomats in Islamabad are being harassed as well.

New low in already fragile relationship

Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson Muhammad Faisal told reporters that Mahmood was being summoned back, raiding the fear of a possible permanent recall.

“This deliberate bullying, which continues is not confined to a single isolated event, and continues unabated despite repeated official protests lodged with the Indian high commission here,” Faisal was quoted as saying in The Express Tribune. He added that despite identifying the miscreants and bringing them to the notice of senior officials in India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), “no positive action has been taken from the Indian side so far.”

As per the Vienna Convention, the safety and security of diplomats on foreign soil is the responsibility of the host nation.

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, however, downplayed the situation. Saying that recalling foreign envoys for consultations was a routine affair, Kumar assured that India has always done and will continue to do everything in its power “to provide a safe and secure environment for diplomats to work in.”

However, New Delhi did not fail to bring to attention that Pakistan was allegedly responsible for carrying out an equivalent campaign of harassment against its own diplomats posted in Islamabad, accusing Pakistani intelligence agents for having entered the embassy’s residential compound.

“Aggressive surveillance, violation of physical space and tailing of officers in close and dangerous proximity is a perennial issue. [Intelligence agency] personnel keep shooting videos of the officers, thrusting phones on their faces. Obscene phone calls and messages are constantly received on phones,” an unnamed Indian diplomat in Islamabad told Al Jazeera.

Tensions between India and Pakistan have been on constant simmer for decades and the latest spat is only one in a series of many. But there is very little room for relations to improve if both countries fail to respect diplomatic protocol and ensure the safety and security of the other country’s diplomats and their families.