WASHINGTON: Pakistan is considering imposing reciprocal restrictions on United States diplomats in Pakistani cities, official sources told Dawn on Thursday, as US lawmakers advised the Trump administration not to take measures that inhibit conversation.

The Trump administration seems all set to force Pakistani diplomats to stay within 25 miles of the city they are posted at, further straining already tense relations between the two countries who were once close allies in the war against terror.

Official sources told Dawn that Pakistan too planned to enforce similar restrictions on US diplomats in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. They already are prohibited from visiting high-security areas, such as Fata, to protect them against possible terrorist attacks.

Hours before the proposed restriction goes into effect in the US, American lawmakers reminded the Trump administration that it was not a smart thing to do.

Congressman Donald Norcross, a New Jersey Democrat, was one of two US lawmakers who addressed a meeting of the Pakistani American Congress on Capitol Hill, emphasising the importance of continuing a relationship with Pakistan.

“The important thing is to have dialogue,” he said. “And if (by imposing those restrictions) we are inhibiting conversation, I do not think that’s a smart thing to do."

US concerns about growing insurgency in Afghanistan appear to be the main cause for this shrinking space for Pakistan in the US, a point also highlighted by various speakers on Thursday.

Congressman Thomas R. Suozzi, a New York Democrat, put it bluntly, saying that in the US “everyone is focused now on the Afghan-Pakistan border, not Kashmir. We now need the civilian government to be stronger than they have been before”.

“We do understand the war in Afghanistan is not winding down and we also understand that President Trump has set a deadline,” said Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary. “Pakistan too wants peace in Afghanistan. We share the same objectives.”

But while trying to allay US concerns on Afghanistan, Ambassador Chaudhary made another point that may ruffle feathers in Washington. “I believe the US has emboldened India to take a heavy-handed approach in Kashmir,” he said.

Congressman Norcross said that Pakistan and India both faced the same security challenges, which also concerned the United States. “We are starting to work on having a much more productive relationship, Afghan-Pakistan terrorism has been a huge issue and it does not just affect our country but also your country,” he said.

President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Sardar Masood Khan, who was the main speaker at the first session, said that the chances of peace in Korea had also revived hopes for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2018

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