India registered a strong protest with Pakistan on Sunday over the “gross intimidation” of guests invited to an iftar in Islamabad, saying more than 300 people, including lawmakers and journalists, were turned away from the event by security agencies.
The Indian side made its protest through a note verbale or unsigned diplomatic note, which also called on Pakistan to “urgently investigate these ugly events” and share its findings with the Indian high commission.
“The disappointing chain of events of June 1 not only violate basic norms of diplomat conduct but are against all norms of civilised behaviour,” said a statement issued by the Indian high commission.
Pakistani officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said security agencies had checked guests invited to an iftar at the Pakistani high commission in New Delhi on May 28 and to the National Day reception in March, and described the incidents in Islamabad as an “act of diplomatic reciprocity”.
The row comes against the backdrop of heightened tensions following the suicide attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pulwama on February 14 that killed 40 CRPF troopers and the subsequent Indian air strike on Balakot on February 26. It also comes days ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where PM Narendra Modi is expected to come face to face with his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan. The Indian side has ruled out a formal bilateral meeting.
The statement from the Indian high commission said Pakistani security agencies had launched a “concerted campaign” in the days ahead of the iftar hosted by high commissioner Ajay Bisaria at Hotel Serena on Saturday. The agencies reached out to invitees to “actively dissuade them from attending the event”, it said.
“Guests faced unprecedented harassment and intimidation at the hands of security agencies...Those guests who did reach the function venue, in some cases from places as far as Lahore and Karachi, were intimidated and physically stopped from attending the iftar function by Pakistani security forces, who had virtually laid the Serena Hotel under siege,” the statement said.
“Many guests from the diplomatic community based in Islamabad were also subjected to harassment in complete violation of diplomatic norms,” it added.
“A large Pakistanis security detachment, equipped with forklifts, was detailed outside Serena Hotel to aggressively turn away Pakistani citizens...,” the statement said.
“The more than 300 esteemed Pakistani guests who were turned away included parliamentarians, government officials, media representatives, retired military officials, businessmen and retired diplomats, in addition to citizens from all walks of life.”
“Some Indian officials were jostled, pushed, abused and aggressively threatened with bodily harm. In some cases, mobile phones belonging to officials were snatched away,” the statement said.
Indian officials pointed out that none of the guests attending the Pakistani mission’s events in March or May were physically stopped or harassed. During the National Day reception, guests were informed that India was boycotting the event and they should refrain from attending.
Among the people stopped from attending the Indian envoy’s iftar was former chief Pakistani military spokesman Maj Gen (retired) Athar Abbas. Former presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar tweeted about the harassment and hurdles he faced in accessing the venue.
Indian envoy Bisaria said: “We apologise to all our guests who were aggressively turned away from our iftar yesterday. Such intimidatory tactics are deeply disappointing.”