New Delhi, Jan. 22: The tension in India-Pakistan relations simmering for the past few days spilled over today with Delhi expelling two diplomats and two staff members of the Pakistan High Commission here on charges of espionage.
The decision that came in the wake of the harassment of its charge d’affaires, Sudhir Vyas, by Pakistani intelligence in Islamabad since Saturday has reduced the staff strength of the high commission here to 51, with only three diplomats.
The expelled diplomats are Saeed Sheikh, counsellor, and Mohammad Esif, a first secretary. The two staff members are Tasneem Khan and Sher Mohammed. All four were declared “persona non grata” and given 48 hours to leave.
Given the history of “reciprocity” in India-Pakistan relations, a similar gesture is expected from Islamabad in the next few days. An indication was given by Pakistani charge d’affaires Jalil Abbas Jilani, who could not hide his displeasure.
“We live in a world of reciprocity. Obviously, there will be a reaction from Islamabad to what happened in Delhi,” he said. “After all, they will also be asked to reduce the staff strength to 51.”
In the days following the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on Parliament, India had taken a unilateral decision to ask Pakistani high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi to leave and reduced the staff strength of the high commission by half to 55. Within hours, Pakistan reacted in an identical manner.
Jilani was summoned to South Block this afternoon.
The official reason for the expulsion offered by Delhi was that the four were found “indulging in activities incompatible with their official status”. In diplomatese, it means spying.
Foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna, however, denied that the decision was a “retaliatory move” for the harassment of Vyas.
“This is on the basis of the fact that we have evidence they were indulging in activities incompatible with their official status.”
Asked what charges had been levelled against the four staffers, Sarna said: “I am not at liberty to share that with the press.”
Jilani was handed two notes — one to protest against the “continued harassment” of Vyas in Islamabad and the other informing him of the expulsion.