US Ambassador stopped at Islamabad airport
REZAUL H LASKAR
Islamabad, July 31: The US lodged a strong protest with Pakistani authorities after Ambassador Cameron Munter was stopped at the airport here by officials enforcing a rule that requires all foreign diplomats to have a "no-objection certificate" for travelling outside Islamabad.
Munter, who reportedly possessed the NoC, was stopped at Benazir Bhutto International Airport and asked about the document while he was travelling to Karachi last week.
The envoy "strongly protested" about the incident, which was subsequently taken up with President Asif Ali Zardari, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The incident reflected the tensions that have characterised US-Pakistan relations since al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American special forces in a covert raid in Abbottabad on May 2.
Pakistan had threatened to impose "more formal restrictions" on travel by all US diplomats and to require prior notification but dropped the demand when the American administration threatened similar restrictions for Pakistani diplomats in the US, an unnamed US official was quoted as saying by ABC News.
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence began keeping a close watch on American diplomats in the wake of the raid against bin Laden as it believed the CIA was running a secret network of American and Pakistani operatives in the country.
The Foreign Office sought to play down the incident involving Ambassador Munter, with spokesperson Tehmina Janjua saying "no US-specific" travel restrictions had been applied.
"However, there are general guidelines regarding travel of Pakistan-based diplomats, designed only to ensure their safety and security, which have existed for a long time," she said in a statement.
"Pakistan is fully mindful of its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Foreign Ministry is having a constructive engagement with the US Embassy in Islamabad in this regard," Janjua said.
This was the second time this year that Pakistan and the US have publicly differed on the interpretation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The Foreign Office had notified all diplomatic missions, including that of the US, in June that diplomats would require a NoC while travelling outside Islamabad.
The US sees the requirement of a NoC as a violation of Article 26 of the Vienna Convention, which obligates the host country to "ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory".
Pakistani officials claimed movements of diplomats can be regulated for national security purposes.
Pakistani officials, in interactions with US officials, have tried to play down the travel regime by telling their interlocutors that it was "preventive rather than restrictive", the Dawn reported.
However, an unnamed Pakistani security official told the daily that the restrictions were enforced because of the travel of undercover foreign intelligence agents assigned to Pakistan as diplomats.
Foreign Office officials acknowledged that holding up Ambassador Munter was a "little too much" and that Pakistani authorities are contemplating a review of the NoC requirement to exempt heads of missions.
Lastupdate on : Sun, 31 Jul 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 31 Jul 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 1 Aug 2011 00:00:00 IST
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