As complaints of alleged harassment and intimidation of each other’s diplomatic staff continue in Islamabad and New Delhi, it has now emerged that Pakistan has blocked Indian government websites — those with domain names .gov and .in — since May last year. India has been asking the Pakistan government to lift the censorship for months now, sources said. The impact of blocking these websites is felt by visa-seekers in Pakistan, as they are unable to fill up the form online. Sources in South Block told The Indian Express that New Delhi has taken up the matter with Islamabad at least five times in the last nine months, but there has been no respite.
India has taken up the matter once again even as a fresh row has broken out between the countries over allegations of intimidation and harassment of diplomats and their families in recent weeks. Sources said that many in Pakistan’s elite class are now using proxy servers through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to bypass their censors and access these Indian government websites.
“We have been constantly communicating with Pakistani authorities about access to these websites. These (websites) may be useful for students or professionals who want information about India,” a source said. “But this information block has been continuing for the last nine months.”
Blocking of these websites went unnoticed amid tension between the countries over former Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav’s sentencing, and following developments at the International Court of Justice. There have also been visa curbs, and India had insisted on endorsement letters from the Pakistan foreign minister for medical patients seeking visas.
The South Block, which monitors Islamabad’s moves, has been getting calls and emails from many Pakistani nationals about problems in accessing government websites. “We have politely told them that it is their own government’s doing, and that they should also take it up with their agencies,” a source said.
The Indian High Commission in Islamabad has complained about its staff facing incidents of harassment over the last few weeks. Cases of “intrusive surveillance” have been reported. While the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi has released some videos and photographs of alleged harassment the country’s staff are facing here, sources said South Block has taken a “conscious decision” not to release such videos.
India has asked its diplomats, diplomatic staff and their families to not venture out of the Pakistan capital’s diplomatic enclave unless there is a compelling reason. New Delhi has also asked the staff to use only vehicles with diplomatic number-plates and not use their private vehicles. On Thursday, India had asked Pakistan to ensure “safety and security” of Indian diplomats and their families living in Islamabad.
The recent turn of events started after the Indian side had reacted strongly when officials from Pakistani agencies entered an under-construction residential complex of the High Commission in Islamabad on the night of February 15, right opposite the High Commission’s diplomatic enclave, and supposedly harassed the workers there. The Pakistani side has held that the agencies were concerned about lack of security clearance of Pakistani workers employed by the local contractor.