- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2011

U.S. protests travel curb

U.S.-Pakistani relations, already strained over the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, turned uglier last week when airport officials in the capital Islamabad tried to impose travel checks on U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter.

Mr. Munter “took strong exception” when officials at Benazir Bhutto Airport asked to see a travel document that permits foreign diplomats to take trips outside of Islamabad, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported Sunday.

He “strongly protested” the incident with airport authorities, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was informed of the dispute.

Pakistan announced it would enforce rules on diplomatic travel and require foreign officials to carry a document called a “no-objection certificate” on trips within the country. The certificate means the Foreign Office has no objection to a particular diplomat’s travel.

Mr. Munter reportedly carried the document but issued a formal protest, claiming the restriction violates international law that guarantees free travel under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The Pakistani government announced its travel rules in June, about a month after the May 2 Navy commando raid on bin Laden’s compound near Islamabad. The government was embarrassed that bin Laden was living in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, and some U.S. officials suspect the Pakistani intelligence service was hiding the al Qaeda terrorist leader.

After the U.S. Embassy complained that Pakistan violated the diplomatic treaty, a Foreign Office spokesman said that “Pakistan is fully mindful of its obligations under” the convention.

However, he added, “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.”

Privately, the government realized it had created a diplomatic incident with the United States.

“Background discussions with officials at the Foreign Office suggested that they realized that holding up Ambassador Munter was a little too much,” Dawn said.

The newspaper added that the Foreign Office is reviewing its enforcement of the travel checks.

Mango diplomacy

In the United States, Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani is hoping that the import of a major Pakistani fruit will sweeten diplomatic relations between Washington and Islamabad.

Mr. Haqqani traveled to Chicago last week to celebrate the arrival of the first Pakistani mango shipment to the United States.

Story Continues →