Pakistan, US may restrict diplomats’ movements

Both sides clarified the move has nothing to do with an accident in Islamabad involving an American diplomat in which a Pakistani national was killed.

world Updated: Apr 12, 2018 19:42 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan,United States,diplomats
File photo of the US and Pakistan national flags.(Reuters)

The United States and Pakistan are engaged in a diplomatic row which — despite denials from both sides — could lead to strict restrictions on the movement of their diplomats, according to a media report on Thursday.

The Trump administration has notified Pakistani authorities that diplomats at the embassy in Washington and at consulates in other American cities will not be able to travel 40 km beyond from their posts without permission.

The notice, shared with the Pakistan embassy in Washington and sent to the foreign ministry in Islamabad, indicated that the restrictions could be imposed from May 1 if certain issues remained unresolved, the Dawn newspaper reported.

Both sides clarified the move has nothing to do with an accident in Islamabad involving an American diplomat who ran a red light and rammed into a motorcycle, killing a Pakistani national.

The Dawn quoted an email from a US spokesperson saying: “I can confirm that there are no restrictions on travel for Pakistani diplomats in the United States.” Asked if such restrictions could be imposed in the near future, a spokesperson said: “Beyond that, we have nothing to announce at this time.”

A spokesperson for the Pakistan embassy gave an almost identical response, saying there were no restrictions so far on the movement of Pakistani diplomats in the US, but the mission had no information about future restrictions.

The issue was also raised at Tuesday‘s news briefing at the state department, where spokes­person Heather Nauert said: “I don’t have anything for you on that.”

The Dawn reported that the Pakistan embassy received the notification in mid-March and since then, the two sides have had several discussions on the issue in Islamabad and Washington.

Both US and Pakistani officials clarified the notice had nothing to do with Saturday’s fatal accident when a US diplomat ran a red light and killed a Pakistani motorcyclist.

According to the notification, diplomats will need to apply for permission at least five days ahead of an intended trip outside the imposed 40-km radius.

In discussions with their Pakistani counterparts, US officials pointed out that Islamabad had already imposed similar restrictions on American diplomats in Pakistan, who are not allowed to visit the tribal belt or Karachi.

Pakistani officials argued these are not restrictions but security measures intended to protect US diplomats. They pointed out the state department too does not allow its diplomats in Pakistan to visit the tribal areas, Karachi and certain other places in Pakistan out of security concerns.

Last month, Pakistan received a letter from the state department complaining that while Americans issue two-year visas to Pakistani diplomats, US diplomats only get one-year visas, forcing them to get the documents renewed every year during their three-year postings.

The state department complained Pakistan was also very restrictive in issuing visas to other US officials and traders and warned it could reciprocate in the case of Pakistani officials and citizens. The state department maintained Pakistanis were usually given five-year US visas but US officials and businessmen only got single-entry visas of three months duration.

Recently, the US also introduced short duration visas for Pakistani officials. Even interior minister Ahsan Iqbal and foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua were issued one-month visas for recent visits.

Pakistanis working for international organisations, such as the World Bank, are also facing visa delays. The Dawn reported the US had issued about 40,000 non-immigrant visas to Pakistanis over the past five years.

Islamabad issued 60,000 visas to American citizens during the same period. But more than 60 per cent of those visas holders are US citizens of Pakistani origin, who travel home to visit families.

First Published: Apr 12, 2018 19:42 IST