Ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night and running away. Horrible phone calls. Cutting off power and water supplies. Car chases, combative confrontations and children intimidated.
It might sound like an acrimonious neighborhood dispute, and in some ways it is. But the neighbors in this case are the nuclear-armed geopolitical rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars since the partition of India in 1947 and still trade fire across a de facto border in Jammu and Kashmir.
In recent days, the foreign ministries of both countries have purported the other side is engaged in the systemic harassment of senior diplomats — and even the school-age children of high commission staff. The incidents have involved allegations of doorbell-ringing at 3am, diplomats being tailed by security services and confrontations with unknown assailants who film the encounters.
Indian diplomats in Islamabad are utilized to having doorbells rung in the middle of the night and being trailed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, said Vishnu Prakash, a retired diplomat who served as the political counselor in India’s high commission in Islamabad and had his own doorbell rung on several occasions.
“It’s standard operating process,” Prakash said in an interview. “I had a carload of ISI guys following me. If I went to the doctor, they would stand outside and listen in.”
The purported tit-for-tat harassment reflects a broader deterioration of India-Pakistan relations in recent years. Although the two sides have held peace talks in the past, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s early outreach attempts have failed to reset ties. In the meantime, India has continued to blame Pakistan for cross-border attacks while Islamabad frequently highlights alleged human rights abuses by Indian security forces in Kashmir.
The present spat started after Pakistan’s high commission in New Delhi submitted a list of complaints about harassment to India’s ministry of external affairs. On March 13, its foreign ministry said it had summoned India’s deputy high commissioner to complain about a series of events.
Drivers had been stopped and a high commission counselor’s children were followed and “intimidated,” the Pakistan statement said. A naval adviser was “aggressively chased” while a political counselor was “evicted from a cab and harassed by unknown persons, who used abusive language, threatened him and filmed the whole incident with impunity,” it added.
“The total apathy and failure of the Indian Government to put a halt to these despicable incidents, sparing not even young children, indicates both a lack of capacity to secure foreign diplomats posted in India or a more reprehensible, complicit unwillingness to do so,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said.
India said it was examining the issues. “At the same time, you know that our high commissioner in Islamabad is facing a litany of issues that have not been resolved for several months,” India’s foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said at a briefing on March 15.
Both India and Pakistan regularly haul in their rival’s senior diplomats to complain about a host of problems, and sometimes expel high commission staff on accusations that they’re spies.