India asks Pakistan to cut embassy staff by half over espionage charges
(Update 1: adds Pakistan’s reaction)
New Delhi, June 23 (efe-epa).- India on Tuesday asked Pakistan to reduce its embassy staff strength by half within a week amid a fresh diplomatic row between the two neighbors over spying charges.
India would also cut staff at its embassy in Islamabad by the same headcount, a statement by the foreign ministry in New Delhi said.
The decision was conveyed to Pakistan’s envoy, Haider Shah, who was summoned by the government, according to the statement.
“The government of India has (decided) to reduce the staff strength in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi by 50 percent,” said the statement.
“India would reciprocally reduce its presence in Islamabad to the same proportion,” the statement said, adding the decision – to be implemented within seven days – was conveyed to the Pakistani Charge d’Affaires.
The statement said Shah was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs and was informed that India had repeatedly expressed concern about the alleged activities of officials of the Pakistani high commission.
“They have been engaged in acts of espionage and maintained dealings with terrorist organizations,” the ministry said.
The ministry cited the case two Pakistan embassy staffers who were expelled on May 31 after being briefly arrested by the Indian police on spying charges.
“The activities of the two officials caught red-handed and expelled was one example in that regard (espionage charges),” said the statement.
It added that some of Pakistan embassy officials have been indulging in actions “not in conformity with their privileged status in the high commission.”
Days after the expulsion, Pakistan briefly arrested two Indian embassy staffers in Islamabad for allegedly over-speeding and injuring a pedestrian as well as carrying fake currency bills.
India said the two diplomats were kidnapped and tortured in “egregious violation” of the Vienna Convention.
“Pakistan has in parallel engaged in a sustained campaign to intimidate the officials of the Indian high commission in Islamabad from carrying on their legitimate diplomatic functions,” said the statement.
“The recent abduction at gunpoint of two Indian officials and their severe ill-treatment underlines the extent to which Pakistan has gone in that direction.”
The two Indian officials returned to India on Monday.
“The behavior 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,” the statement said.
Pakistan rejected the allegations later on Tuesday and mimicked the Indian government by summoning the Chargé d’ Affaires at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, Gaurav Ahluwalia, to condemn New Delhi’s claims.
“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 Pakistani ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement.
It insisted that its officials in New Delhi had not violated the Vienna Convention and that “they always function within the parameters of international law and diplomatic norms”