India expels Pakistan embassy officials; calls them ‘persona non grata’

India asked two officials from the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi to leave the country, blaming them for 'espionage'. Pakistan denies this claim, saying it is a part of India's malicious international campaign against Pakistan. This is the latest in a series of downturns in the historically fraught relations between India and Pakistan.

unelected establishment

In a development that will add fuel to the already raging fire between the two nuclear armed neighbours, India expels Pakistan embassy officials at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi for “indulging in espionage activities”, India’s foreign ministry said late Sunday, with tensions already heightened between the nuclear-armed rivals. The move is set to complicate the already rabid tension between the two countries, and signals another Indian-led move to isolate Pakistan internationally. 

The South Asian neighbours have a long-running dispute over Kashmir, which was split between them in 1947 when they gained independence from Britain.

Why did India expel Pakistan embassy officials?

“The government has declared both these officials persona non grata for indulging in activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission,” the ministry said in a statement.

The pair had to leave the country “within 24 hours” and Pakistan’s Charge de Affaires was issued with a “strong protest” over the alleged activities of the pair, the ministry said.

The expulsions came weeks after an Indian national was set to stand trial in Germany, accused of spying on Sikh and Kashmiri communities for New Delhi’s secret service.

India expels Pakistan embassy officials: Pakistan condemns

In a statement issued in Islamabad, the Foreign Office said Indian action has been accompanied by a negative pre-planned and orchestrated media campaign, which is a part of persistent anti-Pakistan propaganda.

“Two staff members of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi were lifted by the Indian authorities today on false and unsubstantiated charges.”

“They were, however, released on intervention by the High Commission. We condemn the detention and torture as well as threatening and pressuring of the diplomatic officials to accept false charges”, said the statement.

“Pakistan strongly rejects the baseless Indian allegations and deplores the Indian action which is in clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as well as the norms of diplomatic conduct especially in an already vitiated atmosphere.”

“The High Commission for Pakistan in New Delhi has always worked within the parameters of international law and diplomatic norms.”

“The Indian action is clearly aimed at shrinking diplomatic space for the working of Pakistan High Commission”, the Foreign Office noted.

“The Indian attempts to escalate the tensions will not succeed in diverting attention either from the ongoing internal and external issues faced by the BJP government or from the worsening situation and gross human rights violations being perpetrated by the Indian occupation forces in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K)” concluded the Foreign Office. 

Indo-Pak relations: one step forward, two steps back

Despite the shared culture, history and lingua francas among the people of the two countries, the relations between their states have been historically tense, with many flash points. A violent partition in 1947, the Kashmir Conflict, the Sir Creek dispute and three wars have defined the relation between the South Asia’s two largest states. 

Despite many breakthroughs, relations have deteriorated, especially in the aftermath of the February 2019 Pulwama incident, which India blamed on Pakistan. 

Earlier, India had rejected peace overtures at the last minute by the new Pakistani administration of Imran Khan, which had called for a meeting between foreign ministers of the two states at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly Session scheduled in late September 2018. In 2020, Indian border forces revealed that they had caught a ‘spy’ pigeon from Pakistan, which set social media in both countries alight.

The latest development has seen India expel Pakistan embassy officials on allegations of espionage, which has been denied categorically by the Foreign Office of Pakistan.

Earlier writing for Global Village Space in 2018, Maleeha Hashmey equates the relations between the two to the typical Saas-Bahu (Mother-in-law and Daughter-in-law) relationship depicted in South Asian films. 

Read more: “India & Pakistan: Saas-Bahu relationship?” – Maleeha Hashmey

She presciently wrote in her 2018 piece, “Indian External Affairs Ministry confirmed at a news briefing that India had “accepted” the invitation of Pakistani Prime Minister for a meeting between the two Foreign Ministers. It was not just a news. It was a breath of fresh air for all the peace-loving citizens of Pakistan and India. Having been in a strong conflicting state, both sides only lost and lost. Every sensible South Asian was eagerly waiting for Qureshi-Sushma meet-up for a resumption of the comprehensive bilateral peace dialogue in New York on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly Session on the 27th of September, 2018.”

“It was going to happen after a three-year gap, so hopes were sky-high. Just when everything seemed to have been aligned to pave way for the peace talks seeking the political solution to the outstanding problems between the neighboring countries, our Foreign office received the worst of all news. Indian Government “chickened out” while coming up with the most illogical excuses brimming with hilarity and non-sense, squandering an excellent opportunity for a meaningful dialogue.”

This is the pattern usually followed by talks between Pakistan and India.

Kashmir: A region that has seen no peace

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts but claimed by both in full. A small sliver of the region is also controlled by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.

Kashmir has become a bigger source of tension in the relations between the regional powers after New Delhi last year scrapped the restive Muslim-majority Himalayan region’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a curfew to quell unrest.

Read more: Kashmir Movement in ‘final phase’ says scholar

Freedom fighters in Indian-occupied Kashmir have battled for decades for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan and enjoy broad popular support. 

The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989. 

India has more than 500,000 troops stationed in Kashmir.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have been killed and tortured in the conflict in the region since 1989.

The latest developments from Kashmir

An attack on Indian security forces in 2019 almost led to a full-scale war between the two nuclear-armed neighbors after India decided to carry out ‘surgical strikes’ for alleged ‘terrorist hideouts’ on the other side of the border. Pakistan, via its Operation Swift Retort in February 2019, gave a befitting reply to India when it penetrated deep into Indian territory and dropped bombs. A counter-attack by India was thwarted when Pakistani jets shot down two Indian aircraft and captured a pilot, leaving India red-faced.

Read more: Pakistan Army Chief warns against change in Kashmir’s disputed status

Subsequent to it’s international humiliation, India revoked the special status granted by its Constitution to Kashmir on August 5th 2019, and formally annexed the territories in subsequent months.

Since then, Pakistan and India have been locked in a diplomatic stalemate, with each side trying to undermine the other’s legitimacy on Kashmir. So far, there have been no tangible results.

Meanwhile, the Kashmir valley bleeds.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

blank