Islamabad: 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.