ISLAMABAD - Netherlands on Monday resumed visa, passport and consular services in Islamabad after a temporary halt amid security threats.

Netherlands ambassador in Pakistan Ardi Stoios-Braken announced: “The Embassy of the Netherlands in Pakistan has resumed all consular/visa services. VFS/Gerry’s in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad can immediately start giving appointments to accept visa applications.”

Hours earlier, an embassy statement said: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, the issuing of visa has been halted temporarily.” As soon as this “situation is resolved”, appointments for visa applications can be made through visa application centres of VFS Global in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, it said. The Netherlands embassy in Islamabad was also closed for applications for Dutch passports or other consular services.

After the statement, Ardi Stoios-Braken tweeted that the embassy in Pakistan was open. “The issuance of visa has been halted temporarily. Last week, the embassy was temporarily closed for 2 days because of construction work,” she maintained.

The Netherlands embassy is under threat after the country offered shelter to Christian women Aasia Bibi, who was acquitted in a blasphemy case last month by the Supreme Court.

The European state has already provided asylum to Aasia Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, who fled Pakistan citing death threats after Bibi was acquitted.

The temporary shutting of the visa service came days after it was reported that the life of Ardi Stoios-Braken was at risk amid the worsening law and order situation in the country, especially due to the agitation movement launched by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan after Supreme Court acquitted Aasia Bibi.

The interior ministry warned that some alleged TLP activists were planning to attack the Dutch envoy in a bid ‘to seek revenge for uploading of blasphemous caricatures by Greet Wilders, member of Dutch parliament, on his personal Twitter account.”

The security agencies were tasked to complete fencing of the Diplomatic Enclave in the vicinity of the Dutch embassy.

In October, the Foreign Office had lodged a strong protest with Dutch ambassador over blasphemous tweets by Wilders.

Asia Bibi was acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 31 prompting protests across the country. She was released from Multan Jail on November 7 and was moved to an unknown location for the security concerns. However, there was widespread misinformation that she was freed and ‘would depart the country on a chartered plane to the Netherland.’

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had recently contacted his Dutch counterpart Stef Blok and raised issue of sacrilegious caricatures. He told Dutch foreign minister that sacrilegious caricatures had hurt the sentiments of Muslims across globe. Appalling acts will only fuel intolerance and hatred among believers of different faiths, he said.

Afterwards, Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders cancelled the planned blasphemous contest following death threats and concerns other people could be put at risk.

He said: “To avoid the risk of victims of violence, I have decided not to let the blasphemous contest go ahead.”

Last day, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Faisal rubbished rumours about Christian woman Aasia Bibi’s travel abroad. He said: “Aasia Bibi is in Pakistan and all reports circulating on social media regarding her leaving the country are baseless and unfounded.” 

Prime Minister Imran Khan had fully backed Supreme Court's decision in the Aasia Bibi case and warned protesters against clashing with the state.

Later however, the government signed an agreement with the TLP protesters but pledged to take steps to stop Bibi from travelling abroad.

Special Secretary Interior Aamir told the Senate’s standing committee on interior that no travel ban was imposed on Aasia Bibi. He said that Bibi’s name was not on Exit Control List and she had been released from the Multan prison.

Over the weekend, the United Kingdom refused asylum to Aasia Bibi fearing it would prompt ‘unrest’ in the UK and attacks on embassies. Aasia Bibi and her family had appealed for sanctuary in Britain after her conviction was quashed by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry insisted that Aasia was in Pakistan. He reminded that a review petition was pending in Supreme Court in Aasia Bibi case and the top court was the competent authority to take a decision on the matter.