In a significant move to ease tensions, India and Pakistan are looking to put a lid on recent incidents of harassment of diplomats by reiterating a code of conduct arrived at in 1992 to ensure diplomatic staff are not subject to rough treatment that has accelerated a downturn in relations.
The understanding under the code of conduct (CoC) for treatment of diplomatic/consular personnel signed in 1992 after a spate of incidents of harassment indicates that India and Pakistan seem to have decided they should not sink any further in diplomatic quicksand over instances of intimidation.
The two sides have taken steps to minimise such cases in the past 5-6 days and called on each other to abide by the August 1992 CoC in dealing with diplomats in talks held here and in Islamabad. Interestingly, the announcement comes even as Indian high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria assured businessmen at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry that he would try to maximise visas issued for trade.
“Traders on both sides of the Indo-Pak border face visa issues which is among the reasons why the two sides have failed to actualise the potential $30 billion trade mark estimated by the World Bank,” Bisaria said. “I will try that maximum number of Indian visas are issued to traders,” he said.
In Delhi, the MEA said, “India and Pakistan have mutually agreed to resolve matters related to the treatment of diplomats and diplomatic premises, in line with the 1992 code of conduct.”
There have been instances of aggressive tailing of Indian diplomats in Islamabad and Pakistani diplomats have reported similar incidents in Delhi.
Talking about the significance of the CoC, former Indian HC to Pakistan TCA Raghavan said it was signed at a tense period in India-Pakistan relations and was a pragmatic attempt to ring fence diplomats from frequent turbulence in ties. “Though frequently infringed through tit-for-tat responses, it remains a standard to be invoked to reset things at more stable levels,” he said.
Both sides agreed there was at least a hint of de-escalation in the past week or so. The last incident of harassment reported by Pakistan was on March 22. India though did issue a note verbale to Pakistan earlier this week and sources here said there were still “minor’’ cases of tailing of Indian staff taking place in Islamabad. According to Indian authorities, Pakistan has often claimed harassment of its personnel in India in a bid to establish equivalence.
The two countries have again sought to bring humanitarian issues to the fore with India, as reported by TOI on March 26, seeking visas for a team of doctors that will visit Pakistan soon to examine mentally unsound Indian prisoners.
The CoC clearly lays down that the dignity and personal inviolability of diplomatic/ consular personnel of the Sending State and their families shall be guaranteed and fully respected by the Receiving State.
It also states that intrusive and aggressive surveillance and actions such as verbal and physical harassment, disconnecting of telephone lines, threatening telephone calls, pursuit in cars and unauthorised entry into residences shall not be resorted to.
The two countries are also looking to arrive at an understanding to facilitate unhindered construction work by either side. While Indian diplomats can still live without the membership of elite Islamabad Club – Pakistan interior ministry is yet to approve Indian envoy Ajay Bisaria’s membership – India is not willing to brook any obstruction in the ongoing work for a residential complex for Indian staff in Islamabad. A raid on the complex on February 15 was one of the triggers for the chain of events which eventually led to allegations of intimidation of diplomats and other staff.