India on Sunday “strongly protested” after guests at an Iftar event organised on Saturday by its mission in Islamabad complained of harassment by Pakistani security agencies.
“Guests faced unprecedented harassment and intimidation at the hands of security agencies. A concerted campaign was launched by Pakistan’s security agencies in the days preceding the Iftar function to reach out to invitees to actively dissuade them from attending the event,” said a statement issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
The statement elaborated that guests for the occasion came from different parts of Pakistan and were harassed by the security agencies. In some cases, cars belonging to the guests were taken away by the security personnel. “Stopping diplomats and officials of the High Commission of India in Pakistan from discharging their diplomatic functions by intimidation and coercion is entirely counter-productive for our bilateral relationship,” the High Commission of India said.
On Sunday, a relative of the Indian envoy took to social media confirming the incident. “All those guests last evening fasting and expecting to break their roza with the Indian High Commission; many stood for almost an hour on the road in the searing heat, famished. So unfortunate. Somehow at home we never let a guest go hungry,” said Bharati Chaturvedi, spouse of the Indian envoy Ajay Bisaria on her Twitter handle.
Similar comments were put out by noted Pakistanis who were among the invitees. Politician and activist Farhatullah Babar and journalist Mehreen Zahra-Malik, among others, called out security forces of Pakistan for “unprecedented level of harassment” at the Iftar and dinner organised by the Indian High Commissioner at Serena Hotel in Islamabad. Ms. Zahra-Malik pointed out that apart from police, Pakistan’s anti-terrorism teams were also stationed at the gates of the hotel.
Mr. Babar said that the Indian envoy conducted himself “with great grace”.
This is the second time in less than a week that such an incident was reported. On May 27, the Pakistan High Commission had organised an Iftar in Delhi. According to a report carried by The Tribune, Indian guests at the event had complained about harassment and videography by security personnel belonging to Indian agencies.
Both these incidents have cast a shadow over the cordial exchanges between the Indian and Pakistani leaders since the re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Following Mr. Modi’s re-election, Pakistan PM Imran Khan had reached out to him on May 26 and both sides had discussed the regional situation. They are scheduled to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s summit meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan later this month.
Following the Pulwama terror attack and Balakot strike, reports of harassment of guests at Indian and Pakistani missions have often been reported.
Our Pakistan correspondent reports from Lahore:
Senior PPP leader Farhatullah Babar’s account
On May 1 evening, the Indian High Commission (IHC) hosted an iftar party in Islamabad at the Serena Hotel. The IHC has been hosting a yearly iftar for many years now.
Mr. Babar, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), said he went a little earlier to attend the iftar hosted by the IHC. “I must have been the first person to arrive at the hotel around 6.15 p.m. When I reached, security officials told me that the function has been cancelled. I said that if that had been the case, they [the IHC staff] would have informed me.” Then the security officials asked Mr. Babar to go to the back gate. The security there said the same thing that he doesn’t have the permission to go inside. “But nobody said who gave these orders,” he said. This time, Mr. Babar went to the front gate again and said that he has to go to the reception as they have a private function at the hotel. “I made all this up just to get in to the Serena Hotel. I was finally allowed to go in.”
Mr. Babar said he knew where the IHC function was being held. When he was going there, he saw a former Sikh parliamentarian from the PML-Nawaz there who was also there to attend the same iftar. They reached the hall around 6.35 p.m. Iftar time in Islamabad was 7.12 p.m. on May 1 and the invitation was for 6.30 p.m. “When we got inside the hall, we were the only two guests there — all the others were the High Commission’s own staff. Due to the aggressive security outside, most people couldn’t come in. The diplomats started coming in soon after we arrived. But there were only six to seven Pakistani guests who made it, including us,” Mr. Babar told The Hindu.
Many important people were turned away from the hotel. Security officials did not allow former DG ISPR General Athar Abbas and his wife to attend the iftar. “Must we mistreat our own people and display the same level of unruly and uncivilised behaviour as done by the Indian authorities before our High Commission in New Delhi. I think it’s time to grow up and break the vicious cycle,” the former military spokesman told The Hindu. General Abbas was referring to the recent incident in Delhi outside Pakistan High Commission.
People who were going to Serena for other functions or private events were also affected.