India and Pakistan trade barbs over allegations of diplomatic harassment as ties worsen

A Pakistani (right) and an India soldier march during the flag-lowering ceremony at The Wagah Border Post on May 24, 2003.
A Pakistani (right) and an India soldier march during the flag-lowering ceremony at The Wagah Border Post on May 24, 2003.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - India and Pakistan traded charges of harassment of their diplomatic staff in Delhi and Islamabad as ties between the nuclear-armed rivals hit a new low.

Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled its high commissioner to India, Mr Sohail Mahmood, on Thursday (March 15) for consultations on the alleged harassment of Pakistani diplomats.

Islamabad has listed around half a dozen specific instances of alleged harassment of its diplomatic staff and their families, including children being threatened, over the past eight days, while New Delhi said its diplomats had been routinely harassed over the past eight months.

Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said unknown people followed a car on Tuesday (March 13) carrying the children of a senior diplomat as they were returning from school and took videos and photographs.

On March 9, the car of the Pakistani Naval Adviser was "aggressively chased", said Pakistan.

"This deliberate bullying is not confined to a single isolated event, but continues unabated in a series of incidents, especially targeting the children of our officers and staff," said Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson Muhammad Faisal in a statement on Tuesday.

Footage subsequently released by a Pakistan diplomat shows motorcyclists following his car.

Ties between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars and regularly exchange fire across the de facto border, have been poor.

India has sought action from Pakistan on terrorism and progress in the trial of those accused in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 166 people were killed.

Ties worsened after Indian national Kulbhashan Jadhav was convicted by a military court and given the death sentence for espionage.

India has taken Pakistan to the International Court of Justice against the conviction and accused Islamabad of mistreating Mr Jadhav.

India's Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, Mr Raveesh Kumar, said on Thursday that authorities were looking into the Pakistani complaints but also noted that Indian complaints had gone unresolved for months.

"We have seen reports of issues raised by Pakistan. We do not wish to respond to these issues through the media but through established diplomatic channels," said Mr Kumar

"We are looking into issues raised by their side. At the same time our High Commission has also been facing a litany of issues, which have not been resolved for last eight months. We have asked for immediate resolution of issues faced so safety and security of our diplomatic mission is assured."

While Mr Kumar did not go into details, reports in the Indian media said operatives of ISI, Pakistan's spy agency, had raided an under-construction Indian residential complex near the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and the building's water and electricity lines were cut off. Intruders also broke into the house of one Indian diplomat and stole a laptop.

Allegations of harassment of diplomats is not a new issue between the two countries.

Intelligence agencies are known to keep very close track of each others' diplomats and their movements within the country. Indian diplomats need permission to travel out of Islamabad as do Pakistani diplomats when they travel out of Delhi.

The two countries have also expelled diplomats in recent years. In 2016 India had declared Pakistan High Commission staffer Mehmood Akhtar persona non grata for "anti-India activities". That resulted in tit for tat expulsions of five diplomats on each side.

Analysts said that this latest row was a sign of how much ties had deteriorated between the two countries.

"There is a sense within Pakistan that they are being put in a corner," said Mr Lalit Mansingh, former Indian foreign secretary.

"The US has been cutting funds. India is getting attention of international community. This is a symptom of deteriorating diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan.

"Harassment of diplomats is not a new thing. Any Indian diplomat is trailed and followed by the ISI. And am pretty sure we have surveillance too. To make it an official issue means they want to proclaim relations are not good."

Dr Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan at the Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation added: "Intelligence guys do this kind of tracking but going and harassing families is somewhat unusual even in India-Pakistan context."