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While the Indian high commissioner, Ajay Bisaria, raised the issue of Islamabad Club membership for Indian diplomats with Pakistan authorities last month, Islamabad has chosen to throw that much dreaded word in Indo-Pak diplomatic parlance, reciprocity, at Indian authorities.
According to diplomatic sources, Pakistan interior ministry put on hold clearance for membership of Indian diplomats, including Bisaria himself, after the Pakistan high commission here contended in a formal communication to Islamabad last month that clubs with similar status in Delhi were charging exorbitant rates for membership from Pakistani diplomats. To prove their point, they said while the Delhi Golf Club charged $ 15,000 from them for a 3-year membership, Indian diplomats paid only $ 1500-1800 for same duration membership in Islamabad Club.
India though has responded by telling Pakistan that Golf Club and Gymkhana are private clubs and it isn’t possible for the Indian government to ask them to cut down membership cost for anyone.
The Pakistan diplomats also claimed that while Islamabad Club allowed entry to the entire families of Indian diplomats, their children were not allowed access to the clubs in Delhi. The Pakistan mission said in their official communication that the Delhi Gymkhana and Golf Club, even if combined together, could not offer the facilities which members of Islamabad Club had at their disposal. They said, unlike Islamabad Club, the premier Delhi clubs lacked cinema and horse riding facilities. Spread over 300 acres, Islamabad Club comes with a polo ground and also an 18-hole golf course.
Islamabad Club is open to all foreign diplomats and denying membership only to Indians has created an impression that they are being discriminated against. India is learnt to have told Pakistan that it is even ready to pay more for membership.
The club membership and what Indian authorities have described as a raid on an under construction project for Indian diplomats in Islamabad by ISI are at the heart of the fresh round of hostilities between India and Pakistan. Islamabad has also proposed a protocol between the 2 countries which would allow them to carry out construction activities without any obstruction.
Pakistan said in its demarche to India last week that, between March 7 and March 9, its diplomats and officials in Delhi faced abrupt restriction of movement on at least 18 occasions. Accusing India of acting contrary to the norms of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, Pakistan high commissioner Sohail Mahmood also said in a note verbale that Indian authorities had tried to block supply of milk and gas cylinders to the people living on its high commission premises.
The club issue had apparently been building up for the past few years but the situation seems to have reached a tipping point with the latest membership and renewal requests from Indian diplomats. A source here said that Pakistan diplomats have been advised to seek membership in cheaper clubs. Another Indian diplomat who has served in Pakistan earlier said he expected Pakistan to be more considerate as Islamabad hardly had any other recreational centre for diplomats. With India and Pakistan going public with their grievances, it will be difficult though for either of them to back off in a way which is seen as diluting their adherence to the principle of reciprocity in bilateral ties.
The 2 countries still remain mindful of the fact that they need to act quickly to not allow the goodwill generated by the recent release and repatriation of women and senior citizen prisoners to peter out. Both foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Mahmood saw the initiative a possible first step to providing some semblance of normalcy to ties.