India-Pakistan: Embassies to cut staff by half over spy row

Close to half the staff members at Pakistan's embassy in New Delhi will be asked to leave, Indian authorities said on Tuesday, as the ongoing diplomatic row between the nuclear-armed neighbors escalated over claims of spying.

"They (Pakistan) have been engaged in acts of espionage and maintained dealings with terrorist organizations," the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

India also said it would "reciprocally reduce its own presence in Islamabad to the same proportion."

However, Pakistan has responded with a decision to expel half of the staff at the High Commission of India in Islamabad "as a reciprocal measure". It also denied any wrongdoing by its staff members in New Delhi.

"Pakistan also rejects the insinuations of intimidation of Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad," a Pakistan ministry statement read.

All affected officials have been asked to leave within a week.

Read more: India expels two Pakistani officials on 'espionage' charges

Charges of espionage are common when diplomats are expelled from both countries. They have also accused each other of detaining and torturing diplomats illegally.

India claims that diplomats who returned from Pakistan had "provided graphic details of the barbaric treatment that they experienced", the Foreign Ministry claimed.

Notably, both commissions do not have a permanent ambassador in place.

Tensions have remained high since India scrapped Kashmir's semi-autonomous status last year. New Delhi has also carried out multiple counter-insurgency operations targeting alleged militants in the region since a lockdown was imposed over coronavirus fears in March.

India blames Pakistan for sending armed rebels into Indian-administered Kashmir routinely — charges that Pakistan denies.

Even the presence of birds from across the border, as in the case of a suspected "spy" pigeon belonging to a Pakistani fisherman last month, can lead to lengthy investigations.

see/stb (AFP, Reuters)

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