India on Saturday expelled the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi in retaliation for this week's bloody militant attack in Kashmir which it blames on Pakistan-based Islamic guerrillas.
The decision was taken at a meeting of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's security committee, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh told reporters.
The recalled diplomat told AFP he has been given a week to leave India and warned his expulsion could heighten friction between the two nuclear rivals, who came to the brink of war following an attack by militants on the Indian parliament in December.
"My expulsion will not help to alleviate the situation and we hope this step will not be followed by more negative steps which will further exacerbate the situation," Qazi said, adding he would soon leave for Islamabad.
India, which withdrew its own ambassador from Pakistan following the attack on parliament, is currently under pressure to attack Islamic groups based in Pakistan.
Vajpayee, however, drew support for the expulsion from India's main opposition Congress party and from the influential Marxists, who are opposed to his Hindu nationalist BJP party.
"The expulsion of the Pakistani high commissioner is the right step but we have to see whether it is enough," the Congress said.
Somnath Chatterjee, leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, supported the move but urged Vajpayee to step up security of government facilities in Kashmir to thwart militant attacks as a follow-up action to Qazi's expulsion.
Tensions continued to rise in Kashmir Saturday, with the Pakistani army pounding an Indian frontier district with artillery, injuring four people and sparking panic among hundreds of villagers in the area.
Firing by both sides has continued almost unabated since late Friday.
India has accused Pakistan of supporting militants engaged in a violent insurrection against Delhi's rule in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Saturday's cabinet meeting was called in response to an attack by three militants on Tuesday on a bus and the quarters of a military base near Jammu, in Kashmir, in which 35 people, mostly women and children, were killed. The attackers were gunned down by troops.
India says the three were Pakistanis but Qazi rubbished the claim.
"The accusation that Pakistan is responsible for the incident in which civilians lost their lives and which has been condemned by Pakistan is absolutely ridiculous.
"No one in the world believes that these people were Pakistanis or that Pakistan was resonsible for the action," he added.
The Indian government countered the assertion.
"The attack was testimony to the fact that Pakistan continues to aid and abet the process of infiltration in India and cross-border terrorism is a continuing phenomenon and affects innocent people, innocent Indian men, women and children," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said.
"India's disappointment at the lack of action by Pakistan in addressing its concerns was conveyed to (deputy envoy) Jilani," she said, hinting that New Delhi could take further punitive measures.
"We will announce them as and when the decisions are taken."
Vajpayee's cabinet was briefed by India's military brass in the "operations room" of the defence ministry.
A review of the ground situation in Kashmir was carried out before the meet, minister Singh said.
Pakistan expressed disappointment with Qazi's expulsion and vowed to work for the de-escalation of tension with India, and said it has recalled the high commissioner.
The current stand-off between India and Pakistan is similar to that which existed after the attack on parliament by militants in December, when the two nations came close to war.
Tuesday's massacre took place as US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca was holding talks in New Delhi.
On Friday, the US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, met India's Home Minister L.K. Advani and the State Department is now due to send Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to New Delhi.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, meanwhile, spoke with Foreign Minister Singh by telephone on Thursday.
(China Daily May 20, 2002)