Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh announced this morning that Pakistan’s embassy staff was “involved in espionage as well as direct dealings with terrorist organizations,” and that half of Pakistan’s embassy staff would have to leave India while the rest would be restricted to India’s capital, New Delhi.
India said these sanctions were attempts to force Pakistan to crack down on Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, two Pakistan-based Kashmir guerrilla groups.
India blames Lashkar-e-Tayyiba for an attack on the Indian Parliament Dec. 13 that killed 14, and Jaish-e-Mohammed for an Oct. 1 attack on the legislature in Indian-controlled Jammu-Kashmir that killed 38 people. Islamabad denies it supported the attacks.
Pakistan has frozen the assets of the parent organization of Jaish-e-Mohammed and arrested its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar. India, however, called Pakistan’s moves merely “cosmetic.”
India has also withdrawn Pakistan’s right to use India’s airspace, effectively prohibiting all Pakistani overflights. This sanction, coming one week after India banned bus and train service across the border.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan blamed India’s sanctions for aggravating the situation, but stressed that Islamabad wanted to rely on diplomatic dialogue to defuse the conflict.
“We have been disappointed by the one-sided Indian action. It will create more tension,” Khan said. “Our desire is that the matter should be resolved through talks, but these Indian steps will further complicate the situation.”
Khan said that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was willing to meet with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and implied the two leaders may talk at a summit in Nepal next week.
India confirmed that Vajpayee was attending the summit in Nepal but the Indian prime minister would not meet with the Pakistani president.
Despite pressure from the U.S. and others to initiate diplomatic dialogue, both countries have deployed more troops to their frontiers and put their ballistic missile systems on alert.
Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said Thursday that India would send additional troops to the 2,070-mile border within the next two or three days.
“The [Indian] forces will be ready for any eventuality,” Fernandes told the Press Trust of India. “At the moment, India places great emphasis on its diplomatic efforts.”
Elsewhere, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the two nuclear powers to resolve the conflict through diplomatic channels. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States was monitoring the situation closely, especially because any conflict could have a negative affect on the campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has partnered with the United States along its border with Afghanistan to help capture fleeing members of the Taliban and al-Qaida networks.
“In case they needed their airspace, that would be difficult for us,” Rumsfeld said. “Needless, to say, we’ve got thousands of Americans, military as well as civilians, in Pakistan, and clearly the bases where many of the military people are deployed could conceivably require different force protection.”
China also expressed concern, saying it was “deeply worried” by the recent flare-ups and urged “dialogue and consultations” to avoid military confrontation.