New Delhi, Sept. 23: India today offered to increase the staff strength in the Pakistan high commission here by eight on the condition that Islamabad would reciprocate by allowing a similar increase in the Indian high commission there.
The offer follows last week’s acrimonious statements that forced Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri to cancel his proposed Delhi visit.
“India today proposed to Pakistan an increase in our staff strength at the respective high commissions by eight, from the present level of 47 to 55, on a reciprocal basis,” the foreign ministry said in a statement this evening.
The offer is a clear attempt at ensuring that the Prime Minister’s peace initiative, announced earlier this year, is not derailed.
But it also comes ahead of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s and Pervez Musharraf’s separate bilateral meetings with George W. Bush, scheduled on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Though much of the discussions with the US President will be on bilateral issues, the current strain in India-Pakistan relations and the developments in Kashmir are likely to be highlighted.
Today’s offer will help India show the world that it is doing everything possible to improve relations while Pakistan is creating obstacles with its refusal to give up cross-border terrorism.
Indian officials said the decision was in keeping with the increase in demand for visas in both countries after the restoration of the Delhi-Lahore bus service.
The move, they said, would reinforce Delhi’s commitment to strengthen people-to-people contact.
But Pakistan appeared unenthused by the Indian proposal. “We had proposed that the staff strength at the two high commissions be restored to its original size. But this piecemeal approach will not help either side (improve ties),” a Pakistan diplomat said.
The 110-strong high commissions in each country were whittled down to half after the December 13 terror attack on Parliament. A few months after that, Delhi expelled eight more Pakistani members on charges of spying.
Islamabad retaliated by expelling the same number from the Indian high commission, reducing the staff strength in both missions to 47.
Delhi also asked Islamabad today to send experts from its Indus River Commission to inspect the Baglihar project in Jammu and Kashmir to assess whether the construction by India violated the agreement between the two sides. Islamabad was told its team could visit any time next month.
Sources here said the inspection offer was made as Pakistan’s request to this effect had been pending for a while.
Pakistani sources, however, said Delhi agreed to an inspection visit after Islamabad threatened to take the matter to the international tribunal after it was refused permission for more than a year.