In a sign of escalating tensions between Pakistan and India, Delhi on Tuesday asked Islamabad to cut the size of its diplomatic staff in India by half within seven days after accusing its High Commission (HC) staff of engaging in espionage.
India said it too would halve its diplomatic presence in Islamabad, in view of the principle of reciprocity in diplomatic ties.
The decision on reducing Pakistan’s diplomatic footprint in India was conveyed by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to Pakistani chargé d’affaires in Delhi Haider Shah.
The Indian ministry in a statement said: “Government of India has taken the decision to reduce the staff strength in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi by 50pc. It would reciprocally reduce its own presence in Islamabad to the same proportion.”
It further said the reduction of staff is to be implemented in seven days.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office later also summoned the Indian chargé d’ affaires, asking him to reduce the size of Indian High Commission staff by 50 per cent in seven days.
Islamabad and Delhi to halve strength of high commissions
“The Indian Chargé d’ Affaires was informed of Pakistan’s decision to reduce the Indian High Commission’s staff strength by 50pc as a reciprocal measure. The Chargé d’ Affaires was asked to implement the decision conveyed to him within seven days,” the FO said.
Pakistan had last August sent back the Indian high commissioner after Delhi illegally annexed Occupied Kashmir and recalled its own envoy from India.
The perpetually tense ties between the arch-rival neighbours have gone from one low to another since then without any sign of recovery.
It wasn’t clear from the Indian ministry’s media statement and the subsequent FO note if the reduction was to be implemented on the ceiling agreed by both countries for their high commissions in respective capitals, which is 106, or it was to be applied to the current strength of the missions.
Pakistan is currently having 83 officers and staffers in Delhi, while the number of personnel posted at Indian High Commission is around 100.
The Indian move appeared to be aimed at diverting the attention of its public from the situation in Ladakh, where its troops suffered heavy casualties in the first violent clash at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with Chinese forces since 1975.
Domestic pressure has been growing on the Indian government over what is being seen in India as a timid response to Beijing’s action.
Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India Abdul Basit, while talking to Dawn, said the Indian move was a diversionary tactic for distracting domestic attention from the confrontation with China because Pakistan bashing sells well in India.
Delhi, Ambassador Basit believed, further wanted to tell Pakistan through this move that it has no plans for resuming engagement in the foreseeable future. The third apparent objective behind this action, he added, could be to augment Indian narrative about Pakistan allegedly being a ‘troublemaker’.
The allegations levelled in the Indian ministry’s statement, which formed the basis for the Indian action, included involvement of officials of Pakistan High Commission in “acts of espionage” and “maintaining dealings with terrorist organisations”.
The Indian ministry cited the expulsion of two Pakistani High Commission employees on May 31 as a proof of its claim. Pakistan has already strongly denied the Indian allegation about the expelled staffers.
It further accused Islamabad of harassing the officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and quoted the case of two Indian HC, who were briefly detained by the Islamabad Police for legal formalities after a road accident on June 15. It alleged that they were maltreated by Pakistani authorities.
Both the Indian HC employees returned to Delhi via Wagah border on June 22 (Monday). The Indian ministry said they “provided graphic details of the barbaric treatment that they experienced at the hands of Pakistani agencies”.
The Indian ministry said: “The behaviour of Pakistan and its officials is not in conformity with the Vienna Convention and bilateral agreements on the treatment of diplomatic and consular officials. On the contrary, it is an intrinsic element of a larger policy of supporting cross-border violence and terrorism”.
Pakistan rejected the Indian allegations.
“Pakistan categorically rejects and strongly condemns the baseless allegations made by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs as a pretext to seek 50% reduction in the staff strength of the High Commission for Pakistan in New Delhi,” the FO said.
It emphasised that officials of the High Commission in New Delhi “always function within the parameters of international law and diplomatic norms” and, therefore, allegations of violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations were unfounded.
It rather accused Indian High Commission officials of participating in “illegal activities” and said Delhi cannot hide that through its smear campaign against Pakistan. “The MEA’s (Indian Ministry of External Affairs) statement is another effort to distort facts and deny the culpability of these Indian High Commission officials in criminal offences,” it maintained.
Pakistan, the FO said, also “rejects the insinuations of intimidation of Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad”.