ISLAMABAD - Pakistan is treating the United States embassy staffers in the same fashion as the Pakistan embassy staffers are being treated in Washington, foreign ministry officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan was not harassing the US diplomats but implementing the travel permission regime.

One official said: “If they (the US) lift the travel restrictions, we will also allow the US diplomats to move freely. It’s a tit-for-tat. It is wrong to say we are harassing the US diplomats . We are treating them on a par with Washington. Nothing less, nothing more. Our diplomats in the US are also facing difficulties (in moving around).”

The US diplomats in Pakistan have already curtailed their movement after Pakistan imposed the new travel permission regime this month.

Officials at the foreign ministry said there were very few requests for travel beyond the 25-mile limit since the restrictions were imposed on May 11. The new travel permission regime for the US diplomats restricts their movement and revokes privileges.

A letter issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the embassy of the United States said the US diplomatic cargo at Pakistani airports and ports will be strictly treated in accordance with the provisions of Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which does not provide for an exemption from scanning. The decision was taken reciprocating to travel permission regime introduced by the US government on Pakistani diplomats and officials.

Under the fresh directives, the US embassy and consulates in Pakistan will no longer avail facilities of using tainted glass on official vehicles and rented transport, non-diplomatic number plates on official vehicles, diplomatic number plates on unspecified and rented vehicles; and the facility of biometrically unverified or unregistered cell phone SIMs.

Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said the travel restrictions on US diplomats were firmly in place. “Diplomats and their families will have to seek prior permission to travel outside the radius of 25 miles,” he said.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US diplomats were being ‘treated badly’ in Pakistan. He added that Pakistan would continue to receive diminishing US aid.

“My officers, our state department officers, are being treated badly as well, folks working in the embassies and councils (and) in other places are not being treated well by the Pakistani government either,” Pompeo said, during a debate on the US Department of State’s budget for the 2019 fiscal year.

Pak-US ties have been frosty for several months. In January, the US suspended security assistance to Pakistan targeting the Coalition Support Fund.

Pakistan responded sharply saying it was not dependent on US aid for the war on terror. The foreign ministry said Pakistan had fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources “which has cost over $ 120 billion in 15 years.”

Pakistan said the money it had received from the US was mainly reimbursements for supporting US-led coalition forces after they invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

International relations expert Dr AZ Hilali said the US was unnecessarily making hue and cry over the travel restrictions on the diplomats.  “These are reciprocal travel restrictions, so if the US wants relaxations, it should also lift the restrictions on the movement of the diplomats,” he said.

Hilali said the two nations should try to improve the ties. “The Pak-US bilateral relations have been complicated for the last few months. They (Pakistan and the US) should try to normalize the ties,” he added.

 

SHAFQAT ALI