New Delhi, Jan. 19: Shadow-boxing between Islamabad and Delhi has spilled from the diplomatic sphere to the streets with India’s top diplomat in Pakistan complaining that his official car was repeatedly blocked by intelligence vehicles yesterday.
Sudhir Vyas, charge d’affaires at the Indian high commission in Islamabad, said his official car, carrying the Indian flag on its wing, was boxed in by several cars in Islamabad when he and his wife tried to leave his home for a lunch at the Malaysian high commission, then again as they were trying to get to and return from a dinner at the Nepalese embassy.
Vyas has been the charge d’affaires for over a year after India recalled high commissioner Vijay Nambiar following the December 13 attack on Parliament.
The reported harassment has coincided with the departure to the US of Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, considered a “moderate”.
The timing of the “boxing-in” has fuelled speculation that Pakistan’s pro-military foreign policy establishment under foreign secretary Riaz Khokar has used the absence of his civilian master to reactivate the familiar, but infamous, “tit-for-tat” series with India.
Vyas’ Pakistani counterpart in Delhi, Jaleel Abbas Gilani, had been complaining to Islamabad of stepped-up shadowing by Indian intelligence agencies.
Describing the harassment of Vyas as “unprecedented”, the Indian high commission today sent a protest note to the Pakistan foreign office. The Indian foreign ministry is also expected to summon Gilani tomorrow to lodge a formal protest.
“The CDA (charge d’affaires) was blockaded before his residence and forcibly prevented from leaving on two occasions when he and his wife were proceeding to attend official diplomatic engagements…,” the note said.
“When the mission car managed to leave the residence, it was, in an unprecedented action, forcibly stopped and boxed in by four vehicles and two motorcycles repeatedly on the main roads of the town, both on the outward and return journeys,” it added. The “hold-up” went on up to 11 pm (Pakistan time).
In Port Blair, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee denounced the “act of misbehaviour” and wondered if Pakistan was even averse to maintaining the decorum of normal diplomatic behaviour. “What does Pakistan want' Our envoy has been ill-treated in Islamabad today,” Vajpayee told a public meeting.
External affairs ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in New Delhi that the incident was part of a pattern of harassment against Indian diplomats in Pakistan. “This is more serious than the others as the person involved is senior,” he said. “This is in violation of the bilateral code of conduct, international norms as well as the Vienna Convention. It will be taken up appropriately,” he added.
Recounting the late-night episode, Vyas said in Islamabad: “The car was boxed in, stopped repeatedly. I was one-and-a-half hours late for both engagements. You cannot prevent a diplomatic officer from exercising his diplomatic functions like this; you cannot mistreat the national flag of a mission accredited to your government.”
The incident also came on the day India test-fired a medium-range surface-to-air missile, Akash. Vyas said he did not know if his treatment was connected to the test. “I would hesitate to speculate on the reason,” he said.
“Routine surveillance and tailgating is normal — they do that all the time. But this sort of thing, with a flagged car, it’s not reasonable,” he added.
Pakistani foreign office spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said he had heard of reports of the incident, but he could not comment. The office of the head of the Diplomatic Police Service, a unit charged with protecting Islamabad’s diplomats, said he was away in his home village.