Pakistan’s Isolation Continues as Diplomats are Restricted

Pakistanis should be concerned about the growing rift between the US and Pakistan that has led – for the first time in Pakistan’s history – to restrictions being imposed on Pakistani diplomats within the United States. Hiding our heads like ostriches will not make this problem simply go away.

On April 12, 2018, the Trump administration notified Pakistani authorities that “diplomats at their embassy in Washington and at consulates in other cities will not be able to travel beyond 40km from their posts without permission. The notice, shared with the Pakistan Embassy in Washington and sent also to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, indicates that the restrictions could be imposed from May 1, if certain issues remained unresolved.”

Five days later on April 17, 2018 a top official of the State Department confirmed that this was true. “A senior official of Trump Administration has confirmed that Pakistani diplomats cannot move without seeking prior permission from the concerned authorities in the State Department. In an interview with VOA’s Uzbek service, Thomas Shannon, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, said this restriction was placed in response to the same conditions Islamabad has imposed on US diplomats in Pakistan.”

According to this notification, “diplomats will need to apply for permission at least five days ahead of an intended travel outside the imposed 25 miles radius. In their discussions with their Pakistani counterparts, US officials also point out that Islamabad has already imposed similar restrictions on American diplomats in Pakistan, who are not allowed to visit the tribal belt or Karachi. Pakistani officials, however, argue that those are not restrictions but security measures intended to protect American diplomats. They point out that the State Department too does not allow its diplomats in Pakistan to visit Fata, Karachi and certain other places in Pakistan out of security concerns.”

Further, “the US warning is linked to a larger visa dispute. 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 their visas renewed every year during their usually three-year postings. The State Department complained that Pakistan was also very restrictive in issuing visas to other US officials and traders and warned that it could reciprocate the measure for Pakistani officials and citizens. The State Department maintained that Pakistanis were usually issued five-year US visas, but US officials and businessmen only got single-entry visas of three-month duration.”

Pakistan’s isolation is growing and yet there is no attempt to change policy in order to prevent this further isolation. Such restrictions inside the United States were always for countries like erstwhile Soviet Union and Cuba or North Korea, not countries that claim ally status like Pakistan.

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