New Delhi: Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI “harassed, intimidated” and “aggressively turned away” guests, including its former military spokesperson, when they went to attend an iftar party organised by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad Saturday night.
Highly-placed sources in Pakistan told ThePrint that the intimidation tactics started Friday with many invitees, especially business chambers, receiving calls from masked numbers asking them to not attend the iftar, organised at the Islamabad Serena Hotel. Sources said this was done “as a mark of protest” for not being issued visas to travel to India.
Multiple teams from the ISI, Military Intelligence and the Special Branch of the Islamabad Police camped outside the five-star hotel Saturday and intimidated the Pakistani guests.
While diplomats from other countries were allowed to proceed without any problem, Pakistani guests seen entering the hotel were stopped, asked for identity and where they were headed. In case they mentioned the iftar party, they were threatened with dire consequences and most of the guests went away, sources said.
“They sunk to a new low of harassment, mostly of their own people,” an Indian official posted in Islamabad said.
The Indian High Commission reacted Sunday by condemning the “harassment and intimidation (of guests) at the hands of security agencies.”
“The disappointing chain of events of 1 June not only violate basic norms of diplomatic conduct but are against all notions of civilised behaviour,” it stated. “Stopping diplomats and officials… from discharging their diplomatic functions by intimidation and coercion is entirely counter-productive for our bilateral relationship.”
The Indian High Commission has now requested the government of Pakistan to “urgently investigate these ugly events”.
While harassing of guests at each other’s parties is nothing new, this particular incident comes at a time when speculation is rife that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan may meet during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek mid-June.
According to government sources, New Delhi is also likely to raise the issue of harassment of iftar invitees with Islamabad.
Guests complain on Twitter
Of the many guests who were stopped was former spokesperson of the Pakistani military, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas (retd), who is now Pakistan’s envoy to Ukraine. He was seen getting into a heated argument with the security personnel before returning.
Former Mil Spox Amb (MG) Ather Abbas stopped by security personnel from attending iftar by Indian High Commission at Serena. Do we need to behave like Indians? No we have to be different. The retired general had a heated argument with security personnel before returning.
— Baqir Sajjad 刃切流 挫邪怒 (@baqirsajjad) June 1, 2019
Senator Farhatullah Babar, who served as press secretary to former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, was also stopped by the security personnel, but still managed to make his way to the iftar.
He said on Twitter that just a little over a dozen Pakistani guests were able to come to the iftar.
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.
— Farhatullah Babar (@FarhatullahB) June 1, 2019
Speaking at the event, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria apologised to the guests, saying: “I would like to apologise to all our friends who were subject to extra scrutiny.”
Bisaria also told news agency ANI: “We apologise to all our guests who were aggressively turned away from our iftar yesterday. Such intimidatory tactics are deeply disappointing. They not only violate basic norms of diplomatic conduct and civilised behaviour, they are counter-productive for our bilateral relations.”
Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria to ANI: We apologise to all our guests who were aggressively turned away from our Iftar yesterday. Such intimidatory tactics are deeply disappointing (file pic) 1/2 pic.twitter.com/3skZWBa0jq
— ANI (@ANI) June 2, 2019
Former Indian diplomat Sharat Sabharwal, who was posted in Islamabad, also tweeted that this was more a 1990s phenomenon.
Used to see this in 90s when I was Deputy High Commissioner. 10 years later,as High Commissioner thought we had left it behind. Seems now that such absurdities of this relationship are more durable than we think.
— Sharat Sabharwal (@sharatsab) June 2, 2019
‘Tit for tat’
Sources in the Pakistan government alleged that a similar incident had taken place before an iftar hosted by its high commission in New Delhi last Tuesday, 28 May.
“We have strongly put up the matter of the Pakistan High Commission New Delhi’s guests being harassed and forced to turn back on Tuesday at Pakistan High Commission New Delhi’s iftar, which has video proof available. Out of the 73 guests, only 25 could actually make it to the iftar in Delhi due to intimidation by Indian security agencies outside Pakistani High Commission,” an official told ThePrint.
Another official pointed to what happened at an event in March outside the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. Several people who were invited to the celebrations at the High Commission on 22 March complained that the Delhi Police stopped them to ask for personal details before letting them in. Some claimed that they were told they should not go as the Indian government had boycotted it.
Official sources had then said there was no intimidation and no guests walked away.
“Details were taken for security purposes and the invitees were just told that the government had boycotted the event,” a source in the security establishment had then said.
However, Pakistan goverment sources said what happened in Islamabad was an act of “diplomatic reciprocity” for the March and May incidents.
“What happened yesterday was completely an act of diplomatic reciprocity. We ignored what the Indian establishment did to our guests on 23 March in Delhi, but we cannot ignore things every time,” a source said.
“We will raise the matter of Indian diplomats filming Pakistani security personnel, and issue a strong caution to Indian High Commission to abide by the principles of the Vienna Convention.”
Meanwhile, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah called on both countries to stop this tit-for-tat.
“Stupid tit for tat diplomacy. It was stupid when we did it outside the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi & it’s stupid when it’s done in the case of Indian High Commission Iftaar (party) in Islamabad. Now that it’s 1-1 perhaps it’s time to move on & stop this nonsense,” he tweeted.
Stupid tit for tat diplomacy. It was stupid when we did it outside the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi & it’s stupid when it’s done outside our’s in Islamabad. Now that it’s 1-1 perhaps it’s time to move on & stop this nonsense. https://t.co/DFFGXoTJkO
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) June 2, 2019
This report has been updated with the latest developments and new information from sources in the Pakistani government.