Pakistan expels Bangladesh diplomat as 'spy' row escalates

DHAKA - Pakistan has asked Bangladesh to withdraw one of its diplomats from Islamabad, Dhaka said Wednesday, in apparent retaliation after the expulsion of a Pakistani envoy who allegedly funded a suspected Islamic extremist on trial for espionage.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said Islamabad had on Tuesday asked Dhaka to recall senior diplomat Moushumi Rahman from its high commission in the Pakistani capital within 48 hours.

"The political counsellor and head of chancery in Islamabad has been given till Thursday to leave the country," Haque told AFP.

On December 23 Islamabad recalled one of its diplomats from Bangladesh at Dhaka's request, after she was alleged to have financed a suspected Islamic extremist accused of spying for Pakistan.

The secretary did not offer any reason for Pakistan's decision to expel the diplomat, but experts believe it was a retaliatory move.

"It is unsurprising and of course a tit-for-tat measure by Islamabad," Delwar Hossain, professor of International Relations at Dhaka University said.

Idris Sheikh, a suspected member of the banned Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), told a Dhaka court last month that he received 30,000 taka ($380) from Pakistani diplomat Farina Arshad, according to police detectives.

A formal statement from Islamabad dismissed the charges "baseless", adding: "an incessant and orchestrated media campaign was launched against her on spurious charges".

Government and police have blamed the JMB for a recent spate of killings of foreigners and bomb attacks on shrines attended by minority Shiites.

Relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan have soured lately after Islamabad strongly protested against the November execution of two opposition leaders for war crimes during the 1971 independence conflict with Pakistan.

On Wednesday, Bangladesh's top court also upheld the death sentence on the chief of the country's largest Islamist party for war crimes.