Indian diplomats pull children out of schools in Islamabad

  • Rezaul H Laskar, Jayanth Jacob, Harinder Baweja, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 26, 2016 01:09 IST
India had been considering the move ever since Taliban gunmen broke into a school in Peshawar in 2014 and opened fire, killing 132 students and nine staff. (AFP File Photo)

Indian diplomats have pulled their children out of schools in Islamabad after New Delhi declared the high commission a “no school-going mission” in June last year, a move Pakistan raked up on Monday to draw attention to strained bilateral relations caused by the recent unrest in Kashmir.

The external affairs ministry confirmed Monday’s report in the Lahore-based Daily Times about the high commission staff being asked to pull out their children from schools in Islamabad.

The decision was taken six months after Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in Peshawar in 2014, killing 132 students and nine staff members.

Although the decision was communicated to the mission last June, the staff waited a year for the academic session to end. As of June 2016, there are no children of Indian diplomatic staff studying in Pakistan.

“Pakistan has leaked the information now to show that India-Pakistan relations are in tatters, and that it has to do with the situation in Kashmir,” a government official said.

“The decision is a year old and has no connection whatsoever to Burhan Wani or the current turmoil in Kashmir. The timing only smacks of an effort by Pakistan to internationalise the Kashmir issue.”

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  At a glance

  • Several security threats involving schools have been reported in Pakistan since a blast at a short distance from the American School in 2009
  • Around that time, the Indian government bought bullet-proof buses that are now used by diplomatic staff to travel to their workplace
  • After Taliban gunmen stormed a Peshawar military school, killing 141, New Delhi declared the Islamabad high commission as a "no school-going mission" last June
  • Pakistan leaked this information to show that India-Pakistan relations are in tatters, according a govt official
  • India-Pak relations have soured over Nawaz Sharif’s provocative statements about Kashmir after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing
  • As of June 2016, there are no children of Indian diplomatic staff studying in Pakistan

Relations between the two countries have worsened over the past few months, with violence in Kashmir over the killing of the 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander being the latest flashpoint. Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif made provocative statements over Kashmir, saying it “will one day become Pakistan”.

India asked Pakistan last week to ensure the safety of its officials and their families stationed in Islamabad in view of threats from marches and protests outside the high commission.

Around 50 children of Indian diplomatic staff studied in International School of Islamabad—also known as the American School — and another 10 in Roots International School. The Indian government allows children of its mission staff to study only in these two institutions.

“It is normal practice for all countries to review staffing and related policies for their diplomatic missions, including in view of prevailing circumstances at those stations,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.

Officials at the high commission have been advised to “make arrangements for education of their wards outside Pakistan” from the academic session that begins in August.

Officials said the Pakistani foreign office and school authorities have requested the Indian government to reconsider the decision.

“This is an informal, internal, administrative arrangement we were informed of two months back. No other considerations were communicated to us,” foreign office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said.

The decision was prompted by security considerations. An Indian diplomat said: “Having a big number of children under one roof is a problem. We could no longer expose our children as soft targets, because the security has deteriorated.”

“There is security around the two schools in which Indian students were studying, but we have to take our own call and decided that we could not put the lives of our children at stake,” another Indian diplomat said.

Another reason for India’s move was the restriction on movement of Indian students. Whenever schools planned trips outside Islamabad, the students had to seek approval from the Pakistani foreign office, according to the Daily Times.

Based on security assessments, diplomatic missions are categorised as no-spouse, and no school-going missions — statuses reserved usually for stations in conflict zones such as Iraq and Libya.

The “no-kid” policy is followed by a number of missions, including the UK, US, Germany, France, Australia, UN organisations, and Canada, in Islamabad. “So, our approach keeps to the policy adopted by several nations,” said an official, defending New Delhi’s decision.

After a blast close to the American School in 2009, the children of foreign diplomats stopped going to the school for some time. The explosion targeted a university and killed many. The attendance of Indian children at the school had dipped in recent years because of security threats.

Around that time, the Indian government bought bullet-proof buses that are now used by diplomatic staff to travel to their workplace. Their children are ferried to and from schools in these vehicles.

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