The recent incident of harassment of a senior Indian diplomat in Islamabad reveals once again the depths to which India-Pakistan relations have sunk. It seems unlikely now that bilateral relations will improve in the near future. As is well known, diplomats, across the world, are protected by the Vienna Convention, to which both India and Pakistan are signatories. Indeed, the norms regarding diplomatic immunity are so strong in other regions that a senior Pakistani diplomat in New York recently escaped facing criminal charges because of his diplomatic status. In south Asia, it is a risky proposition being a diplomat and getting posted in the region. In the last decade, particularly, diplomats serving in India and Pakistan have had to live under severe mental tension. Both in New Delhi and in Islamabad, the staff of the two high commissions is constantly under surveillance and junior officials have also been physically targeted in the past. However, in the last decade, the most severe harassment seems to have been restricted to those who were viewed as belonging to the Research and Analysis Wing or the Inter-Services Intelligence.
In the present case, however, a person no less than India’s chargé d’affaires in Islamabad, Mr. Sudhir Vyas, has had to face harassment from elements within the Pakistani establishment. It is reported that Pakistani intelligence officials blocked the vehicle carrying Mr. Vyas at a number of places, and it took the chargé d’affaires one-and-half-hours to cover a distance that would normally take ten minutes. This is outrageous, and needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It can only be hoped that, unlike in the past, there is no tit-for-tat action by India. This would even further vitiate the atmosphere. Indeed, if incidents like this continue, it is difficult to imagine how diplomatic relations of any kind can be sustained between India and Pakistan. As it is, the two high commissioners have been withdrawn and the staff of the high commissions in New Delhi and Islamabad has been downsized. Earlier, the consulates in Karachi and Mumbai were closed. However, further provocations by Pakistan might just lead India to break diplomatic relations with Islamabad. But even without any further incident, it is clear that prospects of normalcy returning to India-Pakistan relations have been further dampened by the latest row. All those who had hoped that the new year would bring good cheer to south Asia will naturally be deeply disappointed by this most unfortunate incident.