India on Tuesday asked Pakistan to reduce its staff strength in the country by half, a decision that comes weeks after the police expelled two staffers at the high commission in Delhi on charges of spying. In the tit-for-tat action that followed, Pakistani security agencies picked two Indian high commission staffers in Islamabad, tortured them and framed them in a false case of a road accident and possession of fake currency.
The proposal, as first reported by Hindustan Times, had been moved as soon as horrifying details of the torture of two Indian staffers was conveyed to the external affairs ministry on June 16.
Government officials told Hindustan Times that the high commissions in Delhi and Islamabad had an agreed strength of 110 officials. This strength has been halved to 55. Both the countries currently have about 90-plus officials.
The external affairs ministry on Tuesday summoned Pakistan’s Charge d’ Affaires Syed Haider Shah and told them about India’s continuing concern about the activities of officials of his mission who have been engaged in acts of espionage and dealing with terrorist organisations.
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Back in Islamabad, Syed Haider Shah was told, Pakistan has engaged in a sustained campaign to intimidate the officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad from carrying on their legitimate diplomatic functions.
The two officials who had returned on Monday, the external affairs ministry said, had “provided graphic details of the barbaric treatment that they experienced at the hands of Pakistani agencies”.
“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,” the external affairs ministry said.
“Therefore, the Government of India has taken the decision to reduce the staff strength in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi by 50%. It would reciprocally reduce its own presence in Islamabad to the same proportion. This decision, which is to be implemented in seven days, was conveyed to the Pakistani Charge d’Affaires,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.
In the discussions on the plan to halve the mission strength, a senior government official said, New Delhi had taken into account how Indian high commission officials in Islamabad were hardly able to move out of the mission due to fear that they could be picked up and framed in fake cases by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence. In contrast, Pakistani officials in Delhi have been going around freely, some of them even tapping people for classified information.
Pakistan had last August downgraded diplomatic ties after India scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and carved out two centrally-administered union territories. The missions of the two countries have since then been headed by a charge d’affaires, not a high commissioner.