India denounces Pakistani sabotage of iftar, lodges protest

Islamabad: India on Sunday denounced the sabotage of the traditional iftar hosted by India’s envoy to Pakistan, saying it violated “all notions of civilized behaviour”, and lodged a strong protest with Islamabad.

“The disappointing chain of events on June 1 not only violate basic norms of diplomatic conduct but are against all notions of civilized behaviour,” a statement from the Indian High Commission here said.

“Stopping diplomats and officials of the High Commission of India in Pakistan from discharging their diplomatic functions by intimidation and coercion is entirely counter-productive for our bilateral relationship,” the statement said.

Pakistani security personnel forcibly stopped some 300 visitors, mainly Pakistanis, from attending the iftar hosted by Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria at Hotel Serena here on Saturday. They also misbehaved with Indian diplomats.

“The security forces stationed on the main road outside Hotel Serena rudely rebuffed and intimated officers and diplomatic staff of the High Commission of India who tried to ascertain from the security personnel the reasons for harassment of the guests,” the statement said.

“Some officials were jostled, pushed, abused and aggressively threatened with bodily harm. In some cases, mobile phones belonging to officials were snatched.”

The statement said: “Guests faced unprecedented harassment and intimidation at the hands of security agencies.”

It said a concerted campaign was launched by Pakistani security agencies in the days preceding the iftar to reach out to invitees to actively dissuade them from attending the event.

“Those guests who did reach the function venue, in some cases from places as far as Lahore and Karachi, were intimidated and physically stopped from attending the iftar by Pakistani security forces, who had virtually laid the Serena Hotel under siege.

“Further, many guests from the diplomatic community based in Islamabad were also subjected to harassment.

“In complete violation of diplomatic norms, a large Pakistani security detachment, equipped with forklifts, was detailed outside Serena Hotel to aggressively turn away Pakistani civilians.

“In some cases, cars used by invitees were lifted and removed using forklifts. The more than 300 esteemed Pakistani guests who were turned away included MPs, government officials, media representatives, retired military officials and businessmen and retired diplomats, in addition to citizens from all walks of life.”

The High Commission said India “has strongly protested to Pakistan” over “the gross intimidation of guests”.

The mission urged the Pakistani government to “urgently investigate these ugly events and share the results of the exercise with it.

“Further, we have emphasized to the government of Pakistan the need to ensure that diplomats and officials of the High Commission of India are allowed to discharge their diplomatic functions without fear of coercion or harassment.”

Later on Saturday, Bisaria told the media: “I want to apologize to all the friends who were subject to some extra scrutiny outside (the venue).”

Witnesses said the operation was carried out by Pakistani security agencies including intelligence personnel not in uniform.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi were among those invited to the event but they skipped it.

As soon as the guests started arriving at the venue, they were stopped outside and prevented aggressively from going in by the security agencies.

Pakistani security officials reportedly also telephoned members of the Karachi Federation of Chambers of Commerce, the Faisalabad Chambers of Commerce and the Lahore Chambers of Commerce not to attend the iftar party.

The Pakistani media did not report Saturday’s incident, which comes days after Islamabad accused Indian security personnel of obstructing Indians from attending an iftar party thrown by the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi.

India-Pakistan relations have been badly hit after an Islamist group based in Pakistan claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 40 troopers in Jammu and Kashmir in February.