New Delhi: Diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan further nose-dived on Sunday after the Pakistani security forces harassed, coerced and turned back several guests invited for an iftar party by Indian high commissioner Ajay Bisaria in Islamabad on Saturday night. The Indian government has strongly protested about the matter, and said that besides the guests, the Pakistani security forces also misbehaved with the Indian diplomatic staff and had snatched their mobiles.
India said such acts of intimidation and coercion violate the basic norms of diplomatic conduct and are counter-productive for the bilateral relationship between the two nations. India also asked the Pakistan foreign office to investigate the incident and share its findings.
The incident on June 1 by the Pakistani side in Islamabad is seen as a direct retaliation for recent incidents in New Delhi where Indian sleuths and policemen were accused of intimidating and turning back several guests from the Pakistan high commission iftar dinner on May 28. A similar incident was reported on March 23, 2019 on the occasion of Pakistan Day after the Indian government announced it would boycott the event. Several invitees reported harassment by Indian security personnel and were asked to return.
About the June 1 incident in Islamabad, the Indian government has issued a Note Verbale to Pakistan saying while the guests faced unprecedented harassment and intimidation at the hands of security forces, a concerted campaign was launched by Pakistan’s security agencies in the days preceding the iftar function to reach out to the invites to actively dissuade them from attending it.
“India strongly protested to Pakistan gross intimidation of guests invited for an iftar event in Islamabad on Saturday... Guests faced unprecedented harassment and intimidation at the hands of security agencies. A concerted campaign was launched by Pakistan’s security agencies in the days preceding the iftar function to reach out to invitees to actively dissuade them from attending the event. Those guests who did reach the function venue, in some cases from places as far as Lahore and Karachi, were intimidated and physically stopped from attending the iftar function by Pakistani security forces, who had virtually (put) the Serena Hotel under siege,” the Indian high commission said in a statement.
It added many guests from the diplomatic community based in Islamabad were also subjected to harassment. “In complete violation of diplomatic norms, a large Pakistani security detachment, equipped with forklifts, was detailed outside Serena Hotel to aggressively turned away Pakistani citizens. In some cases, cars used by invitees were lifted and removed using forklifts. The more than 300 esteemed Pakistani guests who were turned away included parliamentarians, government officials, media representatives, retired military officials, businessmen and retired diplomats, in addition to citizens from all walks of life,” the high commission said.
“The security forces stationed on the main road outside Hotel Serena rudely rebuffed and intimidated officers and diplomatic staff of the High Commission of India who tried to ascertain from the security personnel the reasons for harassment of the guests. Some officials were jostled, pushed, abused and aggressively threatened with bodily harm. In some cases, mobile phones belonging to the officials were snatched away,” the statement added.
On Saturday in Islamabad journalists, politicians and other guests invited for the iftar dinner at Hotel Serena were screamed at, abused and threatened by Pakistani security agencies and ISI men. Several teams of the ISI, Pakistan Military Intelligence and the Special Branch of the Islamabad Police was spread outside Serena Hotel, which intimidated Pakistani guests when they started arriving for the iftar. While several went back for fear of harassment, those who refused to get intimidated were given wrong directions for the entry to the hotel to get them diverted. Even foreign diplomats were not spared.
The harassment led to low attendance at the iftar. But several Pakistanis took to the social media to expose their government and express anguish.
“Unprecedented level of harassment at @Serena_Hotels Islamabad. #India embassy Iftaar happening & police & anti terrorism force misbehaving with anyone trying into get in the hotel. Got screamed at, my driver abused. Sorry, not being an entitled prick. This was genuine harassment,” wrote journalist Mehreen Zahra-Malik.
“Came to Serena for iftar hosted by Indian HC. Hotel seems barricaded. Told that iftar cancelled. When insisted, I was told to use other gate. Other gate also closed and told to go back to front gate again. What’s going on, something fishy,” Senator Farhatullah Babar, another invitee, tweeted. “Managed to come to Sheesh Mahal for Indian HC Iftar despite efforts to stop invitees on one pretext or other. It is nearing iftar time. Only foreign diplomats have come so far. Not more than half a dozen Pakistani guests able to come. Sad manifestation of tit for tat, pettiness,” Senator Babar, who was press secretary to former President Asif Zardari, added.
Addressing the gathering, Indian high commissioner Ajay Bisaria apologised to the guests, saying: “I would like to apologise to all our friends who had to face a lot of trouble while coming in and many of them could not even manage to come inside despite having come from Karachi and Lahore.”
He added there was a new government in New Delhi a couple of days and with a new government comes a new hope of new beginnings. “We are positive that this new government in India, we have Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a new and very positive external affairs minister, who was the foreign secretary, Dr S. Jaishankar. This government has come with a strong mandate of development and prosperity for the people,” Mr Bisaria said.
Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Imran Khan are set to meet in Bishkek on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit later this month.