ISLAMABAD — Guests invited to Indian High Commission’s Iftar party in Islamabad faced “unprecedented harassment and intimidation” due to enhanced security checks by the Pakistani officials who stopped some invitees on one pretext or other, the Indian mission said on Sunday, as it strongly protested the “ugly” incident and sought “urgent” investigation into the matter.
Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria hosted the annual event on Saturday at Serena Hotel for which guests were invited from all over Pakistan.
“The guests faced unprecedented harassment and intimidation at the hands of security agencies,” the Indian High Commission said in a statement
It said the guests who made to the venue from places as far as Lahore and Karachi were “intimidated and even physically stopped” from attending the party by Pakistani security forces, who had virtually laid the Serena hotel under siege.
“A concerted campaign was launched by Pakistan’s security agencies in the days preceding the iftar function to reach out to the invitees to actively dissuade them from attending the event,” it said.
The High Commission said security officials stationed on the main road outside the hotel rudely rebuffed and intimidated” officers and diplomatic staff of the IHC who tried to ascertain from the security personnel the reason for the harassment of the guests.
“Some officials were jostled, pushed, abused and aggressively threatened with bodily harm. In some cases, mobile phone belonging to the officials were snatched away, it said.
Many guests from the Pakistan’s diplomatic community were also subjected to harassment.
“In complete violation of diplomatic norms, a large Pakistani security detachment, equipped with forked lifts, was detailed outside Serena hotel to aggressively turn away Pakistani citizens,” the Indian mission said, adding that in some cases, cars used by guests were lifted and removed using forklifts.
Over 300 Pakistani guests, including parliamentarians, government officials, media representatives, retired military officials, businessmen and retired diplomats, were prevented from attending the function, it said.
Protesting the incident, the High Commission said the incident “not only violated the basic norms of diplomatic conduct but was against all norms of civilized behaviour...and entirely counter-productive for our bilateral relationship”.
It also asked the Pakistani government to “urgently investigate these ugly events” and share the result of the exercise with it.
Meanwhile, those attending the event also said that additional security deployment was made around the luxury hotel.
A journalist said he saw more than usual security presence but those having invitation cards and identity documents were allowed to attend.
“My invitation card was checked and I was asked questions about profession and residence, and allowed to go in,” he said.
“Unprecedented level of harassment at @serena_hotels Islamabad. #India embassy iftaar happening & police & anti terrorism force misbehaving with anyone trying into get in the hotel. Got screamed at, my driver abused. Sorry, not being an entitled prick. This was genuine harassment,” tweeted noted journalist Mehreen Zahra-Malik.
Another journalist, on condition of anonymity, told PTI that he did not attend as he feared about questioning and security checks.
He also said that there were reports that some invitees were called by anonymous callers and told not to attend the event.
Senior Pakistan People’s Party leader Farhatullah Babar said every gaze deflected towards odd visitors in hotel’s lobby.
“Came to Serena for iftar hosted by Indian HC. Hotel seems barricaded. Told that iftar cancelled. When insisted, I was told to use other gate. Other gate also closed and told to go back to front gate again. What’s going on, something fishy,” he tweeted.
Babar said that he somehow managed to attend the Indian mission’s iftar despite efforts by the local authorities to stop invitees on one pretext or other.
High Commissioner Bisaria in his brief address to the audience said that some of the guests could not make to the party.
“I want to apologise because some of you faced a lot of trouble to come here and some of our friends could not come,” he said.
Bisaria also said that people had come from Lahore and Karachi to attend the event and thanked them for coming.
India has not been engaging with Pakistan following the attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016, maintaining that talks and terror cannot go together.
Tensions flared up between the two sides after a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammed killed 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14.
Amid mounting outrage, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a counter-terror operation, hitting the biggest JeM training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on February 26. The next day, Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured an IAF pilot, who was handed over to India.