India, Pakistan expel a mission staffer each: This posturing is intrinsic to art of diplomacy

Declaring each other’s representatives persona non grata is a bit of posturing intrinsic to the art of diplomacy. India and Pakistan do it frequently and feel good about themselves and it is a gentler option in exercising hostility than firing bullets at each other.

On your bike mate, off you go, give you 48 hours to pack.

The choice of the selected individual is rather like the random double security check at an American airport for foreigners from specific countries. By doing so everyone feels the system is working and the nation’s security apparatus is in good nick.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

In actual fact it is more window dressing and when India dropped Mehmood Akhtar and gave him a one way ticket, then its official at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad Surjeet Singh was dispatched by Islamabad to make it one all.

After a fashion it is a bit of a lark and follows a procedure steeped in self-importance. The Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi is summoned to the External Affairs Ministry and he remonstrates predictably and gets all hot under the collar. In a few hours, the same scenario will be played out across the border and a diplomatic family uprooted. One wouldn’t be surprised if they have a bit of a raffle and take out a name arbitrarily.

The Indian accusation that Mehmood Akhtar works for the ISI is a bit disingenuous. One would have concluded that most of the Pakistani civil servants do exactly that and you don’t have to be John le Carre to know 'cultural attaches' and 'commercial attaches' are just covers for espionage. Isn’t that what diplomats do…all those cocktail parties and honey traps and taped conversations and packets of moolah in wrapped up newspapers and cold drops and stuff…seen that movie.

You just have to look up on the roof of some embassies bristling with antennae and satellite dishes and a noodle soup of communications cabling to know that they are not watching reruns of Friends.

Snooping is something which comes with the job.

Thing is that after WWII, the freedom given to diplomats have begun to border on the absurd. Diplomatic immunity has become a nuisance and misused from wrongful parking of cars to acts of violence and even murder.

Here are some doozy examples, courtesy the Virtual Bureau of International law.

Alhaji Umaru Dikko, a member of the ex-Nigerian government, was kidnapped from his London house and was drugged and hidden in a diplomatic crate bound to Nigeria in 1984.

In 1987, Karamba, a commercial attach of the Zimbabwean mission to UN, was accused of severely abusing his children. The US did not charge him with any crime due to his diplomatic immunity.

In 2004, Christopher van Gothem, an American marine working with the embassy, collided with a taxi and killed a musician in Bucharest, Romania. His blood alcohol content was higher than the permitted limits when tested from a breath analyzer. He refused to provide a blood sample for further testing and rushed back to the US before charges could be framed against him.

Surely, in all these cases immunity should have been lifted.

Diplomatic pouches carry contraband from drugs to guns and are a smuggler’s aspiration. One wonders sometime why these mutual privileges should not be revisited. There have been cases of bringing in weapons, shoplifting, blocking traffic, avoiding arrest for criminal acts and finding sanctuary in the confines of their embassy grounds.

A critical reworking of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 and the Convention on Consular Relations in 1963 are well overdue. Murderers have got away and the returns from such missions in a hi-tech age have become an expensive self-indulgence. Even when there are blatant breaches of local law nothing can be done because every nation has its citizens in that country and they are then at risk if action is taken against an individual and relations turn inimical. Also, diplomatic activities in protecting these citizens and offering them consular services makes it necessary to have these mutual territorial rights.

Why these cannot be continued after serious reconsideration of the privileges to the individual not connected to his or her job which now border on a free pass to do whatever you want with impunity courtesy the immunity is a matter that needs to be addressed.

India might be sending a message to Pakistan by its tough stance but this letter has been delivered so often that the traffic of dismissed diplomats cuts no ice.

The postman doesn’t only knock twice…it is an endless rat-a-tat. And no one really cares.


Published Date: Oct 28, 2016 02:29 pm | Updated Date: Oct 28, 2016 02:29 pm


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