Pak retaliates by expelling a staffer
The trouble between India and Pakistan increased further yesterday when both the countries expelled a staffer each at their High Commissions, while declaring them ‘persona non-grata’ in tit-for-tat action after Delhi Police said it had uncovered a spy ring involving an employee of Pakistani mission. Both the staffers have been given same deadline –October 29– to leave.
According to the reports, the Delhi police arrested two Indians—a third was arrested later—and accused a Pakistan High Commission staffer, Mehmood Akhtar, of receiving “sensitive” defence documents, which includes details of BSF deployment on the border, from them. Maulana Ramzan and Subhash Jangir were sent to police custody, while Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar called Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit and declared Akhtar a ‘persona non grata’ for spying.
In next few hours, what appears to be a retaliatory move to media reports, Pakistan declared Surjeet Singh, an Indian official at the High Commission in Islamabad, as ‘persona non grata’ but without mentioning any charges. It has been reported that the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry expressed deep concern to Indian envoy Gautam Bambawale over the activities of the Indian official that were “in violation of the Vienna Convention and established diplomatic norms”. However, Pakistan diplomatic sources said Singh was being expelled for “spying”, the report added.
On October 27, India declared Akhtar a “ring leader” of an espionage module. It has been reported that the staffer admitted to Delhi Police that he worked for Pakistan’s spy agency, ISI. At the Pakistan High Commission, he was working in the visa section and was an aide to Farrukh Habib, Counsellor (Trade).
In a report of The Indian Express, Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Vikas Swarup said: “The Pakistan High Commission has been informed that Mehmood Akhtar and his family must return to Pakistan by October 29. The Foreign Secretary also strongly conveyed to the Pakistan High Commissioner that the Pak High Commission must ensure that none of its members indulge in activities inimical to India, or behave in a manner that is incompatible with their diplomatic status.”
He went to reject Pakistani allegations of manhandling Akhtar, saying he was treated with “utmost courtesy”. “When he was handed over to the Pakistan High Commission in the presence of a Ministry official, Akhtar himself said he was treated well,” he said.
Swarup informed the media that Akhtar told police that he had joined the Baloch Regiment of the Pakistan Army in 1997, came on deputation to the ISI in 2013 and, in September that year, was posted to the Pakistan High Commission.
Last this happened in February 2003, during the rule of the Vajpayee government. India and Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioners were expelled, along with four diplomats from each side, after the Pakistani diplomat was allegedly found to be funding separatists. In August 2006, Islamabad claimed an Indian official had received “sensitive” documents in Pakistan. New Delhi had responded in equal measure.