June 24, 2020 / 12:32 PM / 14 days ago

Pakistan accuses India of funding militants as diplomatic relations dive

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Pakistan accused old foe India on Wednesday of funding militant groups, a day after the nuclear-armed neighbours said they would expel half the other’s embassy staff for the first time in nearly two decades.

Tuesday’s announcement of planned expulsions followed weeks of accusations and counter-accusations including espionage and the harassment of rival diplomats as relations plummet.

“India has fomented terrorism inside Pakistan by providing training, financial and material support to terrorist groups,” Aisha Farooqi, spokeswoman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, said in a statement, following a failed attempt to blacklist an Indian citizen at the United Nations for allegedly providing funding to banned militant groups.

A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but India has frequently levelled identical accusations at Pakistan.

Rajeev Bhatia, a fellow at Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House and a veteran Indian diplomat, said the planned “deep cut” in embassy staff was significant.

“It’s indicative of the dismal condition of the bilateral relationship,” he said.

Former officials in both countries said the move could eventually lead to the closure of the embassies altogether.

“I see a further downsizing embassy strengths of the two countries in the coming months,” said Brahma Chellaney, a political analyst at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a former Indian national security adviser.

“India is even ready to cut diplomatic ties if things continue the way they are.”

In August 2019, Pakistan suspended almost all trade and transport ties with India after New Delhi revoked autonomy and statehood for its portion of the Himalayan Kashmir region - territory also claimed by Islamabad.

With the latest expulsions, relations are now at an all-time low, outside of the three major wars the two countries have fought since independence from colonial power Britain in 1947, said Asif Yasin Malik, a retired Pakistani general and former defence secretary.

“They are as bad as they can be,” he said. “It is possible we will break diplomatic relations altogether.”

Reporting by Alasdair Pal in New Delhi; Editing by Nick Macfie

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