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Diplomatic spat

March 13, 2018


IN the decades since Partition, relations between India and Pakistan have oscillated between open hostility, and a mutual ambivalence marked by a state of no war, no peace. The current phase of relations is surely not one of friendship and respect. And as is usually the case, the frigid state of bilateral relations has a particularly negative effect on the diplomats representing their nation in the other’s capital. As reported in this paper recently, Pakistani diplomats and their families in Delhi have been facing various forms of harassment. Sources told Dawn that the children of Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner were stopped while on the way to school, while staffers have also been harassed while moving around the Indian capital. Islamabad has made a demarche to Indian diplomats to address these concerns. Reportedly, the Indian antics have been fuelled by the refusal by an Islamabad institution to grant membership to an Indian diplomat. Pakistan has said it will pull out diplomats’ families if the intimidation continues.

Even in times of relative normalcy, diplomats of one country are usually shadowed by intelligence operatives of the host nation. However, in tense times such as these, the spooks can resort to more unsavoury behaviour. Such intimidatory tactics are totally unacceptable and represent a new low in the bilateral relationship, particularly the targeting of diplomats’ families. The Indian authorities must ensure that Pakistani diplomats in New Delhi, as well as their dependents, remain safe and free from harassment. It is clear that elements within the Indian establishment wish to damage Pakistan-India relations irreparably. Saner elements on both sides must prevent this from happening. While it is true that tensions are high, especially on the Line of Control, the situation must not be allowed to deteriorate further. And it is diplomats in both capitals that can play a key role in lowering tensions. But when these very diplomats are the targets of harassment, what avenue for dialogue is left? Certainly ideological elements within Narendra Modi’s administration — particularly the troops of the Sangh Parivar — would like to end all bilateral relations with Pakistan. In this country as well, the hard right would want the exact same thing. However, statesmanship and vision are required in both capitals to ignore such shrill, hawkish noise and work to restore some sort of harmony in Indo-Pak relations. Delhi can take the initiative by providing a safer atmosphere for Pakistani diplomats.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2018