Context: In another round of tit-for-tat actions, India, followed by Pakistan, has decided to halve the strength of diplomatic missions in each other’s capital. India and Pakistan have 110 people working at their respective missions. Now, the strength will come down to 55.
- The government’s decision was conveyed in a démarche (a political step) to the Pakistani Chargé d’affaires (a subordinate diplomat who substitutes for an absent ambassador.
- India said that the behaviour of Pakistan and its officials is not in conformity with the Vienna Convention and bilateral agreements on the treatment of diplomatic and consular officials.
- It follows the ill-treatment and torture of Indian personnel posted in Islamabad, in clear violation of their diplomatic rights.
- Tit for tat: Pakistan’s contention was that the two men arrested were carrying fake currency, but it seems to be a response to arrests and the expulsion of two Pakistani High Commission officials accused of espionage last month.
Earlier such occasion happened in 2001:
- Then, the Parliament attack in December 2001, and the largest military mobilisation of the time along the India-Pakistan border, Operation Parakram, were the reason for the halving the strength of diplomatic missions in each other’s capital.
- The 2001 move was reversed after a thaw in ties: After Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit in 2004, the move was reversed and diplomats were gradually taken back to a full strength of over a 100 in each High Commission.
Significance of the latest move: The move seems to underline New Delhi’s view that if Pakistan does not make efforts to mend ties, India will not make unilateral moves to befriend Pakistan.
- First time since 2001: The expulsions of diplomats are not uncommon between countries, but this is the first time such a measure has been taken since 2001.
- The decision to reduce mission strengths is unlikely to impact working relations between India and Pakistan at present.
- Worsening diplomatic relations: Neither India’s high commission in Pakistan nor the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi has ambassador-level representation, because Islamabad had expelled India’s high commissioner to protest New Delhi’s move to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution last August, and did not post a high commissioner in India.
- India and Pakistan have had no talks since 2015, when PM Modi visited Lahore, and the External Affairs Ministers met a few months later.
- All sporting and cultural exchanges are at an end, and visas are rarely granted, apart from the rare exception being made for the Kartarpur corridor.
- At the LoC, ceasefire violations continue to claim lives of soldiers and civilians on both sides.
- At every multilateral forum India and Pakistan are fighting each other.
- No consensus even on non-contentious issues such as cooperating on the coronavirus pandemic as a part of the SAARC grouping, or collaborating against the recent locust invasion that affected the region.
While the present seems bleak, the future does not augur well for a change, particularly as India-China tensions occupy New Delhi’s concerns and focus.
Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations: The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is an international treaty, accepted by 189 states till date, that defines a guideline for diplomatic relations between numerous independent countries.It is the basis for modern international relations.
- It defines who is a diplomat and thus entitled to special privileges and immunities.
- Diplomatic immunity: It specifies the privileges of a diplomatic mission that enable the diplomats to perform their diplomatic functions without the fear of any legal trouble or harassment from the host country.
- Diplomatic immunity is granted to only certain individuals depending on their rank and the amount of immunity they require to carry out their official duties without legal harassment from the host nation.
- The convention says that persons working as diplomats are “inviolable” and can therefore not be arrested or detained.
- Host nations must also protect diplomats from attacks on their freedom and dignity.
- Although the text includes a guarantee of free travel inside the host country, no such freedom is spelled out for cross-border trips.
- Unhindered travel: Third countries are obliged to let diplomats pass through when they make trips to or from their station of duty.
- Foreign envoys cannot be prosecuted or punished by the host country for actions carried out in the line of duty.
- It also makes clear that this immunity can only be waived by the diplomat’s home country, and only if this is done in an express manner.
- In addition, the convention protects embassies from intrusion and guarantees that diplomats can communicate freely with their capitals.
- It also gives host countries the right to expel envoys.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 (VCCR)
- It is an international treaty that defines the guidelines for consular relations between the independent countries.
- A consul normally operates out of an embassy in a different country, and performs two functions:
(1) protecting the interests of the country and the countrymen of the consul, and
(2) furthering the commercial and economic relations between the two countries.
- While a consul is not a diplomat, they work out of the same premises, and under this treaty they are afforded most of the same privileges, including a variation of diplomatic immunity called consular immunity.
- This treaty has been accepted by 176 countries.
- Consular immunity not as extensive: For example, consular officers are not given absolute immunity from a host country’s criminal jurisdiction (they may be tried for certain local crimes upon action by a local court) and are immune from local jurisdiction only in cases directly relating to their consular functions.