New Delhi: The Pakistan high commission has brought to the notice of the Indian foreign ministry some incidents of alleged harassment over the last few days, two people familiar with developments said on Sunday.
“These will no doubt be investigated. India makes all efforts to provide a safe, secure and hospitable environment for diplomats to work in," one of the people cited above said.
The comments follow reports in the Indian and Pakistani press which stated that Pakistani diplomats and their families in India were the target of harassment by Indian authorities.
According to the second person cited above, Indian high commission officials and their families have also been targets of harassment in Islamabad, especially in the past one year.
“However, Indian diplomats chose to tackle this matter with quiet and persistent diplomacy rather than by airing issues in the media," the second person cited above said.
“For instance, on 16 February, the high commissioner of India met the foreign secretary of Pakistan, to lodge a strong protest against multiple acts of hooliganism against Indian properties and personnel. India’s residential complex in Islamabad was raided by Pakistan agencies who expelled all Pakistani service providers and later disconnected power and water supply. Despite the foreign secretary’s assurance, the power supply was not restored for over two weeks. The Pakistan high commission faces no such disruptions," the second person said.
“More troublingly, over the last few months, several high commission staff have been severely harassed and intimidated. In one case, an official’s home was broken into and his laptop stolen," the second person said.
Harassment appeared to be the “new normal for Indian high commission personnel in Islamabad. The high commissioner’s car was recently stopped by Pakistani agencies in the middle of a busy road to prevent him from attending an event," the second person said.
Aggressive surveillance, violation of physical space and tailing of officers in close and dangerous proximity has been a perennial problem, the first person cited above said. “Agency personnel keep shooting videos of the Indian officers by thrusting phones in their faces. Obscene phone calls and messages are constantly received on phones," the person said.
“In view of such an atmosphere of intimidation, most families have returned to India and children have been withdrawn from schools," the first person said.
“India has repeatedly requested Pakistan to mutually ensure that high commission officials are allowed to do their job in an atmosphere free of harassment and intimidation, that staff be allowed to work, that construction projects get completed on time. We would like to continue the fine tradition of allowing diplomats to do their jobs," the person added.
The charges and countercharges come as India and Pakistan seemed taking a step towards thawing their frozen ties with some humanitarian gestures.
Last week, the South Asian neighbours had agreed on an exchange of elderly and women prisoners.
The humanitarian gesture—first suggested by India in October and accepted by Pakistan last week involves an exchange of prisoners and the revival of a judicial commission set up to expedite the speedy release of prisoners who had finished their sentences.
Peace talks between India and Pakistan have been suspended since 2013 and efforts to revive them subsequently have come to nought. This is despite meetings between Pakistan’s then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Russian city of Ufa and in Paris on the sidelines of the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change in 2015. Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj travelled to Pakistan in December 2015 for a regional conference on Afghanistan and Modi visited Lahore in December 2015 on his way back from a trip to Russia. The Modi visit was the first prime ministerial visit from India in a decade.
But a series of attacks on military facilities in India in 2016 put paid to the efforts to resume peace talks. In September 2016, India said it had carried out surgical strikes against terrorist launch pads in Pakistan controlled Kashmir—something Pakistan denied. The Indian government also highlighted Pakistan’s active support to terrorist groups based on its soil at international fora including the UN General Assembly.
However, news reports said that there were several contacts between the national security advisors of the two countries last year.