Accessibility links

Mutual Expulsion of Indian, Pakistani Diplomats Strains Relations - 2003-02-10

Top diplomats from India and Pakistan are returning home two days after the neighboring countries ordered their expulsions. The diplomatic dispute has further strained relations between the South Asian rivals.

Pakistan's acting high commissioner, Jalil Abbas Jilani, left New Delhi for Islamabad, two days after India ordered him out for allegedly funneling money to Muslim separatists in Indian Kashmir. He has strongly denied the charge.

India's acting high commissioner in Islamabad, Sudhir Vyas, has also returned to India. Pakistan ordered his expulsion hours after New Delhi told Mr. Jilani to leave.

The two countries often expel each other's diplomats, but it is the first time in nearly three decades that such-ranking officials have been told to leave.

The diplomats returned home accompanied by four officials each from their embassies, who were also expelled.

After crossing the border, Indian envoy Sudhir Vyas said that relations between the two countries can only improve if Pakistan ends support to Muslim militants fighting to free Kashmir from Indian rule.

"We are looking for some forward movement on the ground, a reduction in infiltration, a reduction in violence. I am sure India will respond positively," Mr. Vyas said.

The diplomats had to make long road journeys to return home, because there is only one border crossing - Wagah - open between the two countries. Air links were suspended after a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament brought the two countries close to war last year.

Although the standoff has eased, relations are still deeply troubled. India refuses to open talks with its rival, and both countries continue to exchange angry rhetoric.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee voiced more accusations against Pakistan at an international conference on terrorism in the Indian capital. He said Pakistan uses double standards in dealing with terrorism.

"Distinctions are sometimes drawn between different acts of terrorism. In some cases we are told it is not really terrorism, but a freedom struggle. This is how our neighbor has been trying to justify its policy of cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir," Mr. Vajpayee said.

Both countries claim the Himalayan region of Kashmir. India said a Kashmiri separatist struggle is led by Muslim militant groups trained and supported by Pakistan.

Islamabad denies this, and calls the Muslim insurgency an indigenous freedom fight. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir.