FO hits back with reciprocal restrictions on US diplomats in Pakistan

US had informed Pakistan its diplomats and their families in America would need permission to travel outside 25-mile radius from today

Mona Khan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has responded in kind to US travel restrictions on its diplomatic staff and their families, which goes into effect today. 

According to Pakistan's Ambassador in the US Aizaz Chaudhry, from today, Pakistani diplomatic staff and their families would need permission at least five days in advance if they need to travel outside of the imposed 25 miles radius.

Reacting to the movement ban, the Foreign Office (FO) unveiled a set of changes in the government's dealing with US diplomats in the country through a notification. 

Starting today, the FO said American diplomats will also have to take prior permission to travel — something which was earlier done only in special cases —, will not be afforded the luxury of 'fast-track' luggage clearance at airports, will not be allowed to have more than one passport and will stay in the country strictly as per their visa date.

Moreover, the FO said the diplomats will not be allowed to use tinted glass on their vehicles, which was allowed as a protection measure, and diplomatic licence plates on unauthorised vehicles. Additionally, non-diplomatic number plates given to conceal diplomatic status for protection will also be taken back.

Similarly, all mobile phones used by US diplomats will be biometrically verified while they will have to obtain a government no-objection certificate to shift and use rented houses and to install radio communication at their residences or safehouses.

The FO clarified that the measures are a response to the US decision limiting their diplomats' movement in America.

US restrictions 

Last month, the Trump administration communicated to the Pakistani government that its officials working in the US could face restrictions in their travel if similar limitations on American diplomats in Pakistan are not eased up.

The first deadline was said to be May 1 but following partially successful negotiations, the timeframe was extended by 10 days. 

Pakistan has an embassy in Washington DC and four consulates in the rest of the country. 

According to The News, Ambassador Chaudhry said the travel restrictions cover two-tier officials stationed in the US bearing visa categories of A1, and A2 and also the members of their families, including children. 

"Over 250 Pakistani individuals altogether might get affected by this ban," he had said.

In April, in an interview with Voice of America's Uzbek service, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon said this restriction was placed in response to the same conditions Islamabad has imposed on US diplomats.

Shannon stressed that this is nothing new and such steps are routine matters.

This is the first time for Pakistani diplomats serving in America and their families face such travel regulations, whereas in the past US governments have practised such codes on Russian and Chinese officials.