The once beautiful Islamabad has increasingly become more polluted. A dust cloud caused by construction activity hangs over the city now that the cloudy weather is no more.

In most capitals of the world, this problem is overcome with the help of a few water tankers watering the roads. The Capital Development Authority of Islamabad either does not possess these tankers or has forgotten how to use them.

Whether sparkling clean after a monsoon rain or covered by dust in the dry season, Islamabad continues to be dominated by the state and the diplomatic corps. The agencies keep a close watch on all that goes on in the capital including movements of foreign diplomats. Their ‘diplomatic’ workload depends on the number of foreign spies posted under cover.

From the diplomats’ perspective, the year 2014 saw the rowdy arrival of the PTI and PAT marchers. The marches caused excitement and then a foreboding of trouble as the protesters moved to the red zone right next to the diplomatic enclave. A great deal was said and shown about how the workers of the two parties sent the seats of power and justice into semi-paralysis.

The dharma’s impact on the diplomatic community was largely overlooked by the media. Embassies situated within the diplomatic enclave suddenly found themselves cut off from the rest of the city. While the two political dons continued with their speeches, their cohorts added to the misery of the resident diplomats by their nightly extravaganza making it hard for the residents of these neighbourhoods, which include the diplomatic enclave, to sleep.

A huge sigh of relief passed through the square kilometre of the enclave when the Canada-based reformer-turned-revolutionary called it a day. Life in the enclave is now gradually returning to normalcy. The only international bank operating in the zone that had closed down due problems of access has re-opened its doors to clients.

There is still the nightly raucous event of the PTI with the Kaptaan strutting around on his container. The diplomats do not hide their sense of relief about the overall situation easing up a bit. However, there is still this perennial issue of the enclave having become a ‘prison’ due to security fears.

Members of the diplomatic corps do not deny that they are relatively secure with all the restrictions on entering the area. But at times the security measures seem excessive, with some of them calling the enclave their Guantanamo!

The US and UK missions are known for their obsession with the fear of possible terror attacks. Several ambassadors reportedly turned back from the British High Commission this week as they found the security checks unacceptable. The British were commemorating Pakistani war heroes who fought for the Crown in WWI. While they might be justified in fearing a terror attack, but still.

It is the same security concern that has resulted in the use of ordinary instead of diplomatic number plates by some diplomats to avoid attention and possible targeting outside the enclave. That, however, could not prevent terrorists from using fake diplomatic plates when they attacked the Danish embassy outside the enclave.

There have been three major assaults on the diplomatic enclave in the past 30 years, starting with the US mission, stormed and burnt by angry demonstrators after the raid on the Holy Kaaba. The Egyptian embassy was targeted with a truck bomb by an Egyptian group. There was another murderous attack on the church in the enclave.

The stringent security measures are effective as there has been no terror attack against the diplomatic community in Islamabad for many years. Yet the psychosis grips the diplomats posted here as well as their administrations back home. The saddest part of all this is Islamabad being treated by some countries as a non-family station. American families who favoured the city as a nice and safe place to raise a family are now prevented by their government from exposing family members to real or presumed security risks.

As a result, the International School of Islamabad has practically no American children. British and French schools have been shut down. The irony is inescapable. We joined the US in reversing the invasion of Afghanistan by the ‘evil empire’. We joined the Americans in their war on terror. In return, we got terrible terrorist backlash from Al-Qaeda and its Pakistani affiliates, and we were given the worst travel advisories by our friends and allies.

The second irony is that the representatives of the sole superpower live in Pakistan in fear and virtually under cover. They avoid going out or meeting Pakistanis. The only ones who dare go over these norms may be considered as spies. The Zardari government, egged on by Hussain Haqqani, ignored the requisites of security in issuing a large number of visas to US spies and contract workers. It was only when one of them went shooting on a thoroughfare in Lahore that this became known.

Bona fide diplomats have suffered from the activities of their 007 types. Every diplomat needs an NOC to visit restricted areas outside Islamabad. This can lead to situations where the diplomats and their spouses wanting to visit shopping centres situated in the Lahore cantonment area require special permission.

The tourism sector has greatly suffered from these unfavourable travel advisories. The few visitors who come are pleasantly surprised by the normalcy of life here. But foreign diplomats who help provide inputs for travel advisories are not being facilitated to go on tours outside the capital.

The ministries of interior and foreign affairs as well as the intelligence agencies need to rethink such restrictions on diplomats. But there should be a quid pro quo from the diplomatic corps by refraining from painting Pakistan in a bad light.