WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan are engaged in a diplomatic dispute which — despite denials from both sides — could lead to strict restrictions on the movement of their diplomats, Dawn has learned.
The Trump administration has notified Pakistani authorities that diplomats at their embassy in Washington and at consulates in other cities will not be able to travel beyond 40km from their posts without permission.
The notice, shared with the Pakistan Embassy in Washington and sent also to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, indicates that the restrictions could be imposed from May 1, if certain issues remained unresolved.
Both sides clarify the decision has nothing to do with the accident when a diplomat ran a red light and killed a motorcyclist in Islamabad
But when Dawn contacted the US State Department, it received an email from a spokesperson saying: “I can confirm that there are no restrictions on travel for Pakistani diplomats in the United States.”
Asked if those restrictions could be imposed in the near future, the US official said: “Beyond that, we have nothing to announce at this time.”
A spokesperson for the Pakistan Embassy also gave almost an identical response, saying that so far there were no restrictions on the movement of Pakistani diplomats in the US, but the embassy had no information about future restrictions.
The issue was also raised at the Tuesday afternoon news briefing at the State Department where spokesperson Heather Nauert simply said: “I don’t have anything for you on that.”
Dawn learned that Pakistan received the notification in mid-March and since then the two sides have had several discussions on this issue, both in Islamabad and Washington.
Both the US and Pakistani officials, however, clarified that the notice had nothing to do with Saturday’s fatal accident when a US diplomat ran a red light and killed a Pakistani motorcyclist.
According to this notification, diplomats will need to apply for permission at least five days ahead of an intended travel outside the imposed 25 miles radius.
In their discussions with their Pakistani counterparts, US officials also point out that Islamabad has already imposed similar restrictions on American diplomats in Pakistan, who are not allowed to visit the tribal belt or Karachi.
Pakistani officials, however, argue that those are not restrictions but security measures intended to protect American diplomats. They point out that the State Department too does not allow its diplomats in Pakistan to visit Fata, Karachi and certain other places in Pakistan out of security concerns.
Pakistan says that travel restrictions in places like Fata can be removed if the Americans are satisfied with the security arrangements in those areas.
Diplomatic sources in Washington say that the US warning is linked to a larger visa dispute. Last month, Pakistan received a letter from the State Department complaining that while Americans issue two-year visas to Pakistani diplomats, US diplomats only get one-year visas, forcing them to get their visas renewed every year during their usually three-year postings.
The State Department complained that Pakistan was also very restrictive in issuing visas to other US officials and traders and warned that it could reciprocate the measure for Pakistani officials and citizens.
The State Department maintained that Pakistanis were usually issued five-year US visas, but US officials and businessmen only got single-entry visas of three-month duration.
Recently, the United States has also introduced short duration visas to the Pakistani officials. Even the Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal and Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua were issued one-month visas for their recent visits.
Pakistanis working for international organisations, such as the World Bank, are now also facing visa delays.
Information shared with Dawn shows that the US has issued about 40,000 non-immigrant visas to Pakistanis over the past five years.
Islamabad has issued 60,000 US visas to American citizens during the same period. But more than 60 per cent of those visas holders are US citizens of Pakistani origin who go home to visit their families.
Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2018