India, Pakistan diplomatic row: Islamabad recalls 6 officials, New Delhi to withdraw 8

New Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Nov 02, 2016, 05:02 PM IST
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Relations between New Delhi and Islamabad deteriorated after the Uri attack and India's ensuing surgical strikes. Photograph:(Reuters)

Amid rising tensions over ceasefire violations between the two countries, Indian and foreign media reported on Wednesday that New Delhi would recall eight of its diplomats from Islamabad.

Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup, however, declined to comment when asked whether the eight diplomats stationed in Islamabad would be withdrawn. International news agency Reuters quoted him as saying earlier that the diplomats had been "completely compromised" after their names and pictures were put in the public domain.

The same day, Pakistani sources told Indian news agency PTI that six of its high commission officials had returned home. However, there was no official announcement from Pakistan about the withdrawal of its diplomats.

"The decision has been taken after it became impossible for the officials to work in this vitiated atmosphere," PTI quoted Pakistani sources as saying.

"Indian government is threatening and blackmailing our diplomats. So, in this condition, it is impossible for us to stay in this country and work," the sources alleged.

Vikas Swarup, however, told Reuters that six Pakistani diplomats had left New Delhi on Wednesday but clarified they had not been expelled.

The officials, who left India, included commercial counsellor Syed Furrukh Habib and first secretaries Khadim Hussain, Mudassir Cheema and Shahid Iqbal, sources in the Pakistan High Commission told PTI.

Their names were apparently referred to by Mehmood Akhtar - the Pakistani embassy official who was expelled by India last week for alleged espionage - during his interrogation. Following his expulsion, Islamabad had also expelled an Indian high commission official posted there.

Indian diplomats to be 'expelled' by Pakistan

The names of two officials were identified and their photographs were flashed by TV news channels across Pakistan on Wednesday.
Geo TV reported that commercial counsellor Rajesh Agnihotri and press counsellor Balbir Singh may be expelled for using their positions in Pakistan as cover to hide their real identities. It claimed that Agnihotri was directly linked with RAW, while Balbir Singh was working for Intelligence Bureau (IB).

According to a PTI report, Geo TV claimed that Singh was also running a network of militants in Pakistan and expelled high commission official Surjeet Singh was also part of his network.

Deteriorating ties

The tension between the two countries has increased sharply after the Uri terrorist attack in September and the subsequent 'surgical strike' by the Indian Army against terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Both countries accuse each other of repeatedly violating ceasefire across the LoC since the incidents.

India's Ministry of External Affairs accused Pakistan of violations of a 2003 ceasefire that have caused several fatalities and injuries among its civilians and security forces.

(WION with inputs from agencies)