ISLAMABAD: Rapid behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvres have helped Pakistan and Canada avert a row over visas and identity documents of staff of each others’ high commissions.
Relations between the two countries took a dip a few months back when Pakistan refused visa extension to a couple of officials of the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad because they were ‘security guards’ and hence did not qualify for diplomatic status.
According to sources, both officials were in the middle of their tenures in Pakistan. The protocol is to decide on accepting a visa request at the time the appointments are made. Denying extensions subsequently is treated as a snub.
Several other incidents also took place in between, but the ties hit rock bottom when Ottawa, in a retaliatory move, stopped renewal of the diplomatic ID cards of Pakistan’s High Commission staff in Canada and suspended issuance of diplomatic licence plates to the vehicles in their use. The Canadian step, diplomatic observers say, was the harshest since the institution of bilateral ties.
At the peak of the controversy earlier this month, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Canada Akbar Zeb travelled to Islamabad and stayed here for almost two weeks to defuse the situation that had left most Pakistani diplomats posted in Canada without diplomatic cover.
The visit helped the two sides reach a compromise under which Pakistan granted extension to one of the Canadian officials, while the other was withdrawn.
Ottawa has meanwhile resumed renewal of ID cards of Pakistani diplomats. But, the controversy is not over yet. The Pakistani diplomats are still not getting the licence plates of their vehicles.
When contacted, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam didn’t say if the controversy had been fully resolved, but tried to downplay it, saying the issue involved ‘security guards’.
Another issue that added to misunderstandings between the two capitals was about a junior Pakistani official, Imran Malik, who was arrested on charges of domestic violence in Toronto.
Instead of resolving the matter legally through the Canadian system, the consulate in Toronto claimed diplomatic immunity for Mr Malik — a request that was turned down on the grounds that immunity did not cover allegations of domestic assault and was limited to consular functions.
Mr Malik remained in custody for five days while the consulate and the Canadian government wrangled over whether or not he enjoyed immunity. Once the consulate realised that Canadians would not oblige, a bail bond was provided to get him released.
Interestingly, the Foreign Office spokesperson also said that “consular staff does not enjoy immunity”. But what made the Canadians angry was that soon after Mr Malik’s release from custody, the consulate sent him back to Pakistan. The move was seen as an attempt to evade court proceedings. (Courtesy Dawn)