¬†Following differences with Pakistan over assignment visas, India has withdrawn a few of its staff members from the high commission in Islamabad, ToI has learnt. Pakistan’s reluctance to issue assignment visas to Indian diplomats and other staff members despite repeated requests by India is said to have led to the recall.

Islamabad has not issued visas for the past 2 years to Indian officials, except on a few occasions, it’s again learnt. Pakistan had approved the appointment of Indian charge d’affaires Suresh Kumar last year but only after it denied visa to Jayant Khobragade, India’s original pick for the job. Islamabad had rejected Khobragade’s appointment saying he was too senior to head the mission when ties had been downgraded.

While assignment visas are based on reciprocity and can take time, the recent and protracted delay in approval despite several reminders to Islamabad has clearly not been to India’s liking. Indian officials scheduled to return to India were apparently finding it difficult to wait indefinitely in the absence of visas to their proposed replacements.

The recall is likely to further restrict the day-to-day functioning of the Indian high commission with the 2 countries having already cut by half the strength of their respective missions following India’s decision to downgrade ties last year. After India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August, 2019, Pakistan had also recalled its high commissioner, forcing India to do the same.

The delay in issuing assignment visas also may not seem in consonance with the sentiment expressed by Pakistan in the past few months that it was time to forget the past and move ahead to unlock the economic potential of the region by working together. After he was quoted as saying recently that the abrogation of Article 370 was India’s internal matter, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had denied saying any such thing. Pakistan though has maintained it will oppose any demographic change in Jammu and Kashmir.

The 2 countries had surprised many in February as they agreed in a joint statement to “strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors”. While India too has toned down the rhetoric on terrorism, the understanding on ceasefire has so far not lead to any substantive engagement between the 2 countries.