New Delhi, Feb. 8: India and Pakistan today booted out each other’s envoys within hours of one another, deepening the chill between the nuclear-armed neighbours and indicating the new low to which bilateral relations have sunk.
The tit-for-tat expulsions have brought the countries to the threshold of a 1971-like situation, when the high commissions in Delhi and Islamabad had to be shut down for several months. But at that time the neighbours had been at war.
Delhi expectedly threw out Islamabad’s charge d’affaires Jalil Abbas Jilani after he was named yesterday in a first information report for funnelling funds for terrorist activities. Pakistan expelled Delhi’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad Sudhir Vyas on the rebound, asking him to leave by Monday.
Soon after, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee further raised the ante against Pakistan, charging it with using Bangladesh and Nepal to pursue its anti-India agenda. “For us, the most disconcerting aspect of terrorism is that it is sponsored, supported and funded by Pakistan as a matter of state policy,” he said at the chief ministers’ conference on internal security.
The expulsion ‘game’ began this morning after India gave the Pakistan deputy high commissioner the marching orders. On Thursday, a Khwateen-e-Markaz activist picked up near the Pakistan mission with over Rs 3 lakh had confessed that Jilani gave her the money as a ‘gift’ for the Hurriyat Conference.
Joint secretary Arun Singh, head of the Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan division in the foreign ministry, summoned the political counsellor in the Pakistan mission, Syed Ibne Abbas, and informed him of the decision.
Pakistan took only a few hours to retaliate. Its foreign ministry summoned Vikram Misri, political counsellor in the Indian mission, and told him Vyas would have to leave.
Along with the senior diplomats, both sides have expelled four staff members each. They have all been charged with “indulging in activities incompatible with their official status”.
Both sides have asked the expelled persons to leave by Monday. But both governments have allowed their families about a week to pack up.
Aware that the expulsions could set alarm bells ringing globally, Delhi’s order came with a caveat. It said it “did not intend any down-gradation in the level of representation of the CDA” and it “ would be ready to give a visa at the earliest to his replacement”. Pakistan has not made any such clarification.
The latest round of expulsions — which began after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament over a year ago — has brought the staff strength in the two missions down to 47 from 110. The senior-most person officiating is at the level of a political counsellor.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said: “We have hard evidence about Jilani and the other officials of the Pakistani high commission’s involvement.”
The four expelled Pakistani officials are Habib-ur-Rahman, Aftab Ahmed, Abdul Razak and Muhammad Nazir. Apart from Vyas, the four Indians asked to leave are first secretary Rahul Rasgotra and staffers R. Balu, Ranbir Singh and S.R. Anand.
Pakistan’s first reaction to the expulsion was of regret. Jilani claimed he was being framed and expressed confidence that the Indian media would dig out the truth. “Truth shall prevail. But when it comes out I shall be long gone,” he said.
India felt the Pakistan move was a knee-jerk reaction, which only reaffirmed its “compulsive hostility”. “It is extremely unfortunate that Pakistan has chosen to act in this way. This is a pure and simple act of retaliation and another indication of Pakistan’s compulsive hostility towards India,” Sarna said.
Asked if a situation has been created where the two missions may finally have to be closed down, a senior Indian diplomat said: “It is not a question of numbers. We did what we had to do.”
Pakistan information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the expulsion smacked of “diplomatic terrorism”. “This is... the worst kind of diplomatic decision. We want peace and India wants to provoke us. It’s a bad symbol,” he said.
Indian officials had been keeping tabs on Jilani for the past few months. Some allege he had been using his flag car to ferry intelligence operatives from the Pakistani high commission to meet contacts in Delhi.