- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

NEW DELHI, Jan. 23 (UPI) — Pakistan Thursday expelled four Indian diplomats a day after four of its New Delhi-based officials were thrown out of the neighboring country.

The Pakistan Foreign Ministry said the three diplomats and one staff member of the Indian High Commission's visa section were engaged in "activities that were incompatible with their official status," a euphemism for spying. They have 48 hours to leave the country and their families have 7 days.

India's Acting High Commissioner Sudhir Vyas was summoned to the Foreign Office and told about the expulsions.

Those expelled were identified as Vipin Handa, counselor; R.P. Singh, second secretary; Vakil Ramdas, attach; and P. Sundaram, staffer.

"Reciprocating the Indian decision to cut down the strength of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi to 51 personnel, the government of Pakistan has also decided to apply the same staff ceiling on the Indian High Commission in Islamabad," a statement from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said.

The Indian High Commission's strength now stands at 46.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry said Pakistan's move was a "clear act of retaliation" executed on "baseless and false charges."

On Wednesday, India expelled four Pakistani diplomats based in New Delhi in retaliation for Vyas' alleged harassment in Islamabad.

The Pakistani diplomats — Mansoor Saeed Sheikh, Mian Muhammed Asif, Sher Muhammed and Muhammed Tasneem Khan - were declared persona non grata and were ordered to leave India by Saturday for "indulging in activities incompatible with their status."

India had alleged that Vyas had been harassed in Islamabad by sleuths and police agents; Islamabad denied the charge and criticized the Indian move, calling it "unfortunate" and warning of "appropriate action."

India told Pakistan that Vyas' alleged harassment was contrary to all norms and conventions of diplomatic interaction, especially those contained in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1992 Bilateral Code of Conduct between India and Pakistan on the Treatment of Diplomatic and Consular Personnel.

The two nuclear-armed rivals often expel each other's diplomats after accusing them of espionage.

In February 2000, India expelled three staff members of the Pakistani High Commission and Islamabad retaliated the next day by expelling an equal number of Indian diplomats. Similar expulsions were also reported in August 2000, once in 2001 and then in April 2002.

India has withdrawn its High Commissioner to Islamabad and ordered Pakistan's high commissioner to leave the country in protest against a terror raid on Indian parliament. India has halved its diplomatic staff strength in Islamabad during the past two years.

New Delhi accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic terror outfits that had carried out the Dec. 13, 2001, raid on the Indian Parliament in which 14 people, including five attackers, were killed.

The rivals have fought three wars since they simultaneously won independence from British rule in 1947.

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