Pakistan tells Indian journalists to leave

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan has ordered the only two Indian journalists stationed in the country to leave within a week, telling them their visas would not be renewed, officials said Wednesday.

Meena Menon of The Hindu newspaper and Snehesh Alex Philip of the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency were given letters late on Tuesday telling them they must leave Pakistan by May 20.

Both journalists had been posted in Pakistan for less than a year and no reason was given for the decision to deny them new visas.

The move comes just days before the results of India's general election, with Hindu hardliner Narendra Modi expected to triumph.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 and relations are frequently strained.

The nuclear-armed arch-rivals have had an arrangement in place since the 1980s allowing a small number of journalists to work in each others' capitals, but there has been no Pakistani reporter in New Delhi since 2010.

"The two Indian journalists based in Islamabad have been asked to leave by May 20th," an information ministry official told AFP.

"Their visas expired and they were informed that there will not be further extensions," the official said on condition of anonymity without giving any reason.

M.K. Razdan, the editor-in-chief and CEO of PTI, said there was "no rationale and no reason" for the move. "It is a unilateral action and absolutely no reason has been given," Mr Razdan told AFP. "We have other arrangements for news coverage in Pakistan but since decades the norm has been that the main correspondent to Pakistan is sent from India." He added it was too early to say whether the agency would apply to send a replacement for Mr Philip.

India's foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said it was "regrettable and unfortunate" the journalists had been asked to leave "prematurely and suddenly", in comments on his official Twitter feed.

The Pakistan government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sought to improve ties with India since its election in May last year.

But there are fears of renewed tensions if Mr Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party comes to power in Delhi.

Indian journalists working in Pakistan have complained in the past of harassment by authorities including constant monitoring by intelligence agents.

Just days before the general election last May, the New York Times correspondent in Pakistan, Declan Walsh, was expelled at short notice with little explanation given.