“Two officials of the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi were apprehended today by Indian law enforcement authorities for indulging in espionage activities,” a statement from the Indian external affairs ministry said.
The statement added that the officials had been declared persona non grata “for indulging in activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission.” They have been asked to leave the country within 24 hours.
The ministry also issued Pakistan’s charge d’affaires with a demarche — a formal diplomatic message — lodging a strong protest against the two officials and asking to ensure that “no member of its diplomatic mission should indulge in activities inimical to India or behave in a manner incompatible with their diplomatic status.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry in Islamabad swiftly condemned the diplomats’ expulsion and accused India of violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
“Two staff members of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi were lifted by the Indian authorities today (31 May 2020) on false and unsubstantiated charges,” the statement said.
“We condemn the detention and torture as well as threatening and pressuring of the diplomatic officials to accept false charges.”
The statement did not go into details about the torture it alleged took place. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the two men had since been released “on intervention by the High Commission.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the decision to declare the two persona non grata was “accompanied by a negative pre-planned and orchestrated media campaign, which is a part of persistent anti-Pakistan propaganda.”
It said the Indian envoy was summoned and issued a demarche of its own, condemning the “baseless Indian allegations.”
Tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats between India and Pakistan are common, particularly when tensions over the disputed region of Kashmir are high, or when there are military operations or militant attacks.
Maj. Gen. Shashi Asthana, a retired additional director-general of the Indian Army’s Infantry unit said that members of the Pakistan embassy “have time and again indulged in espionage activities, this time around they have been caught.”
Meanwhile, retired Pakistani army officer, Lt. Gen. Talat Masood said that the practice of expelling diplomats has moved into a “more severe dimension.”
“It’s a time when both countries should be focusing on the pandemic, on the crisis within. Instead hostilities are now broadening and becoming more regional,” he said.
The move comes as relations between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors remain fraught.
In August last year, the Indian government stripped Kashmir of its autonomy and special status, prompting Pakistan to downgrade diplomatic relations and suspend bilateral trade with India.
The two countries have had a long-running dispute over Kashmir for more than 70 years.
On Monday, Pakistan sought to frame the move against the High Commission officials as an attempt on India’s part to divert attention away from domestic political issues and the situation in Kashmir.
“Indian attempts to escalate the tensions will not succeed,” the Pakistani foreign ministry statement said.
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