Slash staff strength at High Commission in New Delhi, India tells Pakistan

Slash staff strength at High Commission in New Delhi, India tells Pakistan

New Delhi cuts numbers at Islamabad.

Protesting “espionage” and “terrorism-related” activities by officials of the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi as well as the “ill treatment” of Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad, the government has decided to reduce the staff strength at both missions by half.

The government’s decision, which will bring down Indian staff strength in Pakistan to 55, follows the return of two Indian staffers from Pakistan on Monday, who had been subjected to torture by Pakistan security agencies earlier this month, the MEA said.

On Tuesday, MEA’s joint secretary Deepak Mittal summoned Pakistan’s Charge d’ Affaires Syed Haidar Shah to inform him of the decision, giving Pakistan seven days to complete the process. The last time this kind of reduction of diplomats was carried out was in 2001, after the Parliament attack.

“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 MEA said in its statement, referring both to the arrest and expulsion of two Pakistan High Commission officials on May 31 for suspected spying activities and attempting to recruit an agent, as well as the arrest and torture of two Indian High Commission staffers in Islamabad on June 15.

“These officials who have returned to India on June 22, 2020 have provided graphic details of the barbaric treatment that they experienced at the hands of Pakistani agencies,” the MEA statement said.

“While their officials indulged in actions that are not in conformity with their privileged status in the High Commission, Pakistan has in parallel engaged in a sustained campaign to intimidate the officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad from carrying on their legitimate diplomatic functions,” the MEA added.

The reduction in staff strengths in the latest in a series of measures taken by New Delhi and Islamabad who have seen bilateral ties plummet since the Pulwama terror attack last year and the government’s decision to amend Article 370 of the Constitution and reorganise the State of Jammu and Kashmir. In the past year both sides have snapped trade ties, reduced visas to a minimum and cancelled overflight rights for a few months. In August last year, Pakistan expelled the Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria, and both missions have functioned without a High Commissioner since then.

According to diplomats, the impact of the staff reduction will not be felt in any major way on either side, since there are very limited activities being undertaken by both missions at present. However, this is a symbolically strong message, in line with the decision of the government in December 2001, when it protested the Parliament attack, amidst the mobilisation of troops on both sides of the border and LoC in what was called Operation Parakram.

Slash staff strength at High Commission in New Delhi, India tells Pakistan

On December 27, 2001, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh had announced the measure, in which India reduced staff strengths by half to about 47 diplomats on both sides, and the numbers had subsequently been reduced to just 20. With a thaw in ties between former PM Vajpayee and former Pakistan President Musharraf in 2003, the numbers were gradually increased, and were raised again just before Mr. Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan in January 2004. Since then, there have been several expulsions of diplomats over various issues, but not a full-scale reduction in their numbers, the diplomats added.

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