WASHINGTON: The United States has delayed its decision to restrict the movement of Pakistani diplomats in America as both countries try to resolve the differences that have strained their relations, official sources told Dawn.

Last week, a spokesman for Pakis­tan’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs confirmed that the United States planned to impose new restrictions on its diplomats. Recent reports in the Pakistani media suggest that the US government has already alerted Pakistani authorities of its plan to do so.

According to a notification sent to the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, Pakis­tani diplomats in the US capital and at consulates in other cities would be barred from travelling more than 40 kilometres from their posts without prior permission.

Media reports said the restrictions could take effect as early as May 1, unless “certain issues” were resolved before that.

But official sources told Dawn that the decision had now been delayed, at least till mid-May, as both sides were engaged in efforts to remove their differences.

Efforts being made to resolve differences

The efforts focus on some recent developments in Islamabad where US diplomats and visitors to US Embassy and consulates are facing additional security measures.

Pakistan has prevented foreigners, inclu­ding diplomats, from travelling to certain areas, such as Fata. Karachi and some areas of Balochistan have also been added to the list following continued militant attacks on both Pakistani and foreign targets.

Visitors to the US missions in Pakistan also have to go through strict security and identification routines. Pakistan argues that such measures aim at enhancing the security of foreign missions and their employees and have no other motive.

But Americans appear particularly upset with a new practice, applying the same security measures to those invited by the US missions or diplomats to their offices and homes.

Previously, such guests only had to go through metal detection devices and a quick frisking to ensure they were not carrying weapons. They were not asked to show identity papers or disclose the purpose of their visit, as they are now.

Americans complain that sometimes Pakistanis working for the US Embassy and consulates also face unnecessary interrogation, as do the embassy’s guests.

Dawn learned from its sources that the Pakistan Embassy in Washington has conveyed US concerns on these issues to Islamabad, with a caveat that if continued, such practices could do a major harm to bilateral relations. The embassy also has requested officials in Islamabad “to sit with the US Embassy and resolve the issue because it will have far-reaching consequences”, an official source told Dawn.

The Pakistan Embassy warned that a US decision to limit the movement of Pakistani diplomats would generate “much negative propaganda against Pakistan across the globe. It will also have an adverse impact on the Pakistani American community”.

The embassy fears that the proposed restriction will push Pakistan in the category of countries like Iran and Cuba which are seen in Washington as America’s enemies. “The embassy wants Islamabad to avoid that situation,” the source said.

Pakistani diplomats, in private conversation, point out that the US-Pakistan relationship is not as bad as the restrictions, if imposed, will indicate.

Despite recent tensions, Pakistan and the US still cooperate in a number of important areas, including defence, and the embassy wants this cooperation to continue. “The relationship is far, far better than such a step (imposing restriction) would suggest,” said a US observer.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2018