Spat over gas leaves Indian diplomats in the cold

Spat over gas leaves Indian diplomats in the cold

Delay in supply to High Commission’s residential complex leaves officials battling Islamabad’s severe winters

India is not ruling out retaliatory measures in response to the Pakistan government’s delays in sanctioning gas connections to the residential complex at its High Commission in Islamabad. The delay, officials said, were part of a series of measures aimed at “making life difficult” for Indian diplomats in Pakistan.

This week, New Delhi again raised the problems caused by the lack of gas connections in the newly built residential section of the Indian High Commission complex in the diplomatic zone in Islamabad, just a kilometre from the Pakistan Foreign Ministry.

Caught in red tape

According to External Affairs Ministry officials, who asked not to be identified, the original contract with the gas company in Pakistan — Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd. — was signed in 2015, initial payments were made and pipelines laid and only the “gas tap remains to be opened”.

However, more than three years later, an endorsement of the connection application from the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to be received. The problem is more acute now as winters in Islamabad often see sub-zero temperatures, and gas is the most popular means of heating in Pakistan.

Instead, dozens of Indian diplomats are left using ineffective room heaters and gas cylinders for both heating and cooking in their apartments. The diplomats also reported frequent power outages and slow Internet connections.

Pakistan and Indian officials confirmed to The Hindu that the gas connection issue was being discussed in both capitals this week.

In the absence of any resolution, an Indian official said the government would not “rule anything in or out” on retaliatory measures against Pakistan that could ensue.

The officials said the situation over the gas connections was coming to a boil over the Christmas vacations, while Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria is in Delhi, and Pakistan High Commissioner Sohail Mehmood is in Islamabad for consultations.

A Pakistani official insisted that the claims by the Indian side were “not what is being reported”, indicating that the issue was a procedural one. The Indian side did not respond to a request for a comment.

The issue has also cast in the shade other goodwill gestures being carried out by both countries over the return of prisoners.

After Pakistan repatriated 33-year-old engineer Hamid Ansari last week, who had spent six years in a jail there, India is expected to repatriate two Pakistanis over the Wagah border on Wednesday. Imran Warsi has served a 10-year sentence in prison and 21-year-old Abdullah Shah is autistic and has been in a juvenile detention centre since May 2017 despite his illness. Activists working for the release of more such prisoners stuck in jails say they hoped the recent actions would help build a better atmosphere for bilateral ties.

Instead, External Affairs Ministry officials accused the Pakistani government of vitiating ties. “Be it the gas connection or intrusive surveillance of officials or intruders entering [residential] premises, it seems efforts are to make the life of the High Commission officials difficult,” a source said.

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