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Pakistan – a dangerous place for diplomats and foreigners

Plight of Pakistanis continue

Pakistan has an ill-earned reputation of a rogue state, which is steered by an imperious army that treats foreign diplomats, not by international rules and conventions but by the whims and fancies of the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The shocking incident of kidnapping and beating of the daughter of an Afghan diplomat recently in Islamabad only cements the inference that in Pakistan, the state inherently deprives diplomats and their families, any form of institutional security. 

There are reams of data that establish without an iota doubt that any downturn in Pakistan’s relations with a particular country inevitably triggers unimaginable harassment of that country’s Pak-based diplomats as well as their families. Indian diplomats have traditionally been the target of this culture of impunity and intimidation, marshaled by the Pak intelligence agencies, which turn on the heat as and when they feel the need. Pakistan thus remains the only such country where norms relating to the Vienna convention are not adhered to, forcing diplomats and foreigners to remain on razor’s edge most of the time.

In the past, Afghan diplomats have been under the pump as and when relations have deteriorated between the two neighbours. In March 2015, Pakistani police arrested four Afghan diplomats posted at the Afghan consulate in Peshawar. These envoys were harassed thereafter, in complete violation of diplomatic norms, in spite of revealing their identity to the police.  Pakistanis  use intelligence operatives in the garb of police to detain and induge in mind games withb diplomats and their families. The typical mechanism involves detention followed by harassment of diplomats, justified by the police later that it was unaware of diplomatic identity and status of the detainee.    Beating, torture, threats and intimidation form part of the process until the foreign ministry belatedly gets into the act, sheds crocodile tears, and tries to retrieve the situation.

Also Read: In message to Ghani, did Pakistan abduct and release daughter of Afghan Ambassador after torture?

In June 2016, Afghan diplomats based in Peshawar complained of their vehicles being stopped intermittently and the passengers harassed by local police. Severe travel curbs were also imposed on them thus restricting their activities and movement.  This had led to the closure of the Afghan mission in Peshawar for a significantly lengthy period. Given the nature of relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Afghans living in Pakistan have felt the pressure in the past depending on the nature of relations between the two countries at that moment in time.

In the days after the December 2014 attack on a school in Peshawar which led to several casualties, Pak police and security forces began targeting innocent Afghan refugees living inside Pakistan. According to the UNHCR, a large cross section of Afghan refugees was detained, harassed and beaten by Pak security forces. In some cases, their houses were destroyed. Arbitrary detentions, extortion and intimidation became part of their lives. Extortion became the mantra for survival and those with adequate funds managed to escape harassment by paying off the corrupt police.

Significantly, the Americans have also faced harassment at the hands of Pak agencies in Islamabad. After sharp deterioration of ties following the killing of Osama Bin laden, US Embassy officials in Islamabad have faced a lot of inconvenience during their movement in and out of Islamabad.  Besides, the embassy faced unnecessary delays in obtaining visas for embassy officials and saw their shipment of essential materials routinely blocked. Way back in Jan 2010, the US Embassy was compelled to issue a statement complaining that its staff members were being harassed and detained while travelling across Pakistan for coordinating   distribution of US $ 7.5 billion humanitarian aid that Washington had promised Islamabad.

The US experienced  jaw dropping viciousness of the Pak agencies in 2012, which forced Washington to include the issue in the high level talks between the two countries. A report prepared by the US State Department Office of Inspector General slammed Pakistan for obstructionism and harassment, citing it as an endemic problem, which had increased to a point where it had begun to impair US operations and programmes in Pakistan. Subsequently, there have been instances of individual US diplomats being harassed and pursued aggressively during their movements within the country.

Even Bangladeshi diplomats have not been spared in the past and have complained of harassment at the hands of Pakistani security agencies. There are several instances of Bangladeshi diplomats complaining of persistent harassment `to the point beyond tolerance level’. In February 2016, a Bangladeshi diplomat went missing in Islamabad for a day, kidnapped by `unknown officials. Both sides have also expelled their diplomats in the past. Bangladesh being a passive country in as far as intentional harassment of foreign diplomats is concerned, intrusive activities by Bangladesh based Pak diplomats has compelled the Bangladeshis in the past to act against them.

Regarding incidents linked to India and Pakistan, this has been an ongoing saga with both sides detaining and releasing their respective diplomats.   However, when it comes to violent handling of such cases, Pakistan has left no stones unturned. In one of the worst incidents in 1992, Pak security agencies detained an Indian diplomat, Rajesh Mittal and tortured him, subjecting him to electric shocks. Mittal was left with bruises on his body after being taken to a wooded area where his clothes were ripped off and electrodes used to induce shock. This was the first instance when the Indian government sent an aircraft to bring back the officer on a wheel chair.

With the situation changing in Afghanistan and with the Pak Afghan dynamics likely to witness varying contours, there is a possibility that such incidents will rise in Pakistan in the coming days. Afghan diplomats just as their Indian counterparts would have to remain alert and cautious in their dealings in Pakistan. In this bitter business of harassment of diplomats, there is a degree of civility that one expects from the host nation. However, the incident of kidnapping and torture of the daughter of the Afghan diplomat indicates that in Pakistan civility has no relevance. It is only in an uncivilized and primitive nation that an innocent child of a diplomat can become victim of the angst of the government or its hard- boiled security agencies.