South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Abuse of diplomatic protocol
Sultan M Hali

Diplomatic protocol is a very historic profession dating back to the Babylonians, who initiated the first recorded exchange of envoys with other kingdoms. It evolved as a result of old traditions, when in the early days of civilisation hospitality was extended to an arriving guest.

Diplomatic protocol in modern civilisation is particularly important because it provides a set of established rules of courteousness both by the host government as well as the guest diplomat, that are to be respected by the comity of nations. It pertains to etiquette in international courtesy and specifies the proper and generally-accepted behaviour in matters of state and diplomacy, such as showing appropriate respect to the host country’s rules and regulations and not abusing its hospitality and vice versa, the treatment meted out to diplomats.

The world’s sole superpower – the USA - tends to lead in affairs of statecraft and is looked upon as a champion of democracy. It is heartening to note that whereas diplomatic protocol may have been developed by ancient Greeks, Babylonians, Romans and other enlightened civilisations of that era, the US takes pains in refining its diplomats in courtesy, etiquette and decorum by exposing them to extended courses in diplomatic protocol to enable them to master the basics of politesse and get a better understanding of multicultural manners.

Against this backdrop, a report titled ‘Protocol violations re-emerge as Pak-US irritant, in TheNation last week was very disturbing. The news report, quoting a number of recent incidents, concluded that the lack of respect of diplomatic protocol by US diplomats accredited to Pakistan, is contributing to the trust deficit, which has plagued the erstwhile allies in the war on terror. Needless to say, espionage and diplomacy go hand in glove.

Espionage is considered by most states as a necessary evil, to the extent that both Washington and Tel Aviv, the closest of allies, also spy against each other. The phenomenon of placing spies in the garb of diplomats is not novel, but the US appears to have stretched it too far. Perhaps, it is cognisant of the fact that non-diplomat spies, when caught, are not returned. Instead, after a thorough interrogation, which may include third degree methods, may be proceeded against legally and in most countries, including Pakistan, the ultimate penalty for spying is death.

The case of Raymond Davis, a former US soldier, private security firm employee, and contractor with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who on January 27, 2011, killed two persons in Lahore is a glaring example of the abuse of diplomatic protocol. The US government insisted that Raymond was a diplomat and demanded immunity for him under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to the extent that even President Barack Obama “vouched” for him being a diplomat.

According to the report, the US Embassy in Islamabad, contrary to all norms of diplomatic protocol, is becoming host to “one of the largest CIA stations in the world”, that are operating under the cover of diplomatic immunity taking advantage of Pakistan’s hospitality. It did not provide proof of the unregistered officials being from the CIA. But commented that it was an irritant in the diplomatic ties of both nations, as despite Pakistan’s repeated requests for identification of US diplomats, administrative and technical staff and service staff no compliance has been made.

Earlier this year, our Foreign Office had advised all diplomatic missions accredited to Pakistan to seek formal permission for carrying licensed lethal weapons as well as provide lists of all such weapons held by them. The report indicates that this order has been flagrantly flouted by the US Diplomatic Missions in Pakistan. It quotes an incident of June 4, in which two SUVs from the US Embassy were stopped at the M1-Exit, on their return from a visit to Malakand. The vehicles were reported to be carrying four US officials and three Pakistani staff members of the Embassy, along with four M-4 rifles with 36 loaded magazines of 20 bullets each and four pistols with 36 loaded magazines.

Further, the report mentions that all the weapons were unlicensed. There have been reports of earlier violations too, including the use of fake number plates, unauthorised hiring of houses outside the diplomatic quarters and venturing into restricted areas without permission. So far, Pakistan has accommodated US interests in good faith, since both countries are focused on combating the common enemy of terrorism, but if Washington fails to respect diplomatic protocol in Pakistan, it will only fuel another crisis.