Enforcing diplomatic norms
Sultan M Hali


The Government of Pakistan has imposed new travel restrictions on all diplomats accredited to the country. The move comes against the backdrop of a number of diplomats abusing the hospitality of the host country.

Though diplomatic norms and practices are not new and recognised by every state, yet they have been codified in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to avoid any confusion or doubt about what diplomatic agents can or cannot do in a host country. Pertinent to the current situation in Pakistan, Article 41 of the Convention states:
O Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.
O All official business with the receiving State entrusted to the mission by the sending State shall be conducted with or through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the receiving State or such other ministry, as may be agreed.
O The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission, as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.
Unfortunately, Pakistan was being taken for granted and a number of diplomats were acting in contravention of the spirit of Article 41. Indeed, the country has been harmed by the undiplomatic practices of certain diplomats, and therefore it has become imperative to control or bridle their activities.
An important principle incorporated in the preamble of the Vienna Convention is the “sovereign equality of states”, as enshrined in the UN Charter. It “provides states to deal with their external and internal affairs without outside interference for promoting their national interests and to defend its territorial integrity of states.”
Pakistan’s sovereignty was breached when the so-called American “diplomats” enabled the clandestine Operation Geronimo that was conducted by US Navy SEALs to capture and kill Al-Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden. Likewise, a number of foreign diplomats have been seen engaging in activities that in any diplomatic parlance cannot be described as acceptable norms.
Pakistan has suffered a lot in the war on terror, where agents from various countries have been moving freely and making connections with enemies of the State. Operation Geronimo was also conducted with the help of local CIA agents, who had been recruited by the so-called “diplomats”. This worsening state of affairs, which brinks on waging a covert war against Pakistan, has left the country’s leadership with no other option, except to restrict the movement of the diplomats.
Against this backdrop, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has clearly stated that the increased limitations on ‘when and how diplomats’ can move outside the capital is not US-specific. According to media reports, it maintained that there are general guidelines about the travel of Pakistan-based diplomats that are designed only to ensure their safety and security. They have existed for a long time, and enforcing them now should not be construed as targeting the US or any specific country. So if Pakistan has made an effort to ask a specific mission or the CIA, in Islamabad, to reduce its members or personnel, it is supported by Article 11 of the Vienna Convention that states:
O In the absence of specific agreement as to the size of the mission, the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission.
O The receiving State may equally, within similar bounds and on a non-discriminatory basis, refuse to accept officials of a particular category.
Hence, if a foreign country insists on sending members of its intelligence agencies under the cover of “diplomats”, Pakistan is well within its rights to refuse them that status. It has thus become imperative to enforce diplomatic norms in the supreme interest of the sovereignty of Pakistan.