NEW DELHI: The already dim prospects of any improvement in India-Pakistan relations were dealt another blow on Thursday with Delhi Police busting an espionage ring whose ‘kingpin’ is a Pakistan high commission official.
The government declared Mehmood Akhtar persona non grata after he was nabbed buying classified documents from two men from Rajasthan at the Delhi zoo. Indian officials found that Akhtar enjoyed immunity even though he wasn’t a diplomatic passport holder.
Besides Maulana Ramzan Khan and Subhash Jangid who were nabbed from the zoo, Akhtar was in touch with Shoaib from Rajasthan. An FIR under Sections 3 and 5 of the Official Secrets Act has been registered against the accused, joint commissioner (crime) Ravindra Yadav said. A hunt for at least 10 people, including defence personnel who allegedly leaked the documents, is on.
Late in the evening, Pakistan retaliated by declaring a staffer in the Indian high commission in Islamabad, Surjit Singh, persona non grata. Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry summoned Indian high commissioner Gautam Bambawale and asked him to ensure that Singh left Islamabad in 48 hours. Pakistan accused Singh of espionage and said his activities violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and established diplomatic norms.
The fresh row comes at a time when the Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers are involved in exchange of heavy fire on the international border in the Jammu sector. It also seems to have put paid to the possibility of a high-level engagement in December on the sidelines of Afghanistan-related Heart of Asia conference. Despite its high-decibel campaign to isolate Islamabad diplomatically India extended an invite to the , Pakistan foreign ministry to participate in the meeting to be attended by foreign ministers of 14 countries. Pakistan confirmed its participation on Monday but has not yet officially said if Sartaj Aziz, who is advisor to PM Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, will come to India. Following the police action, foreign secretary S Jaishankar summoned Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit and asked him to send Akhtar back within 48 hours. He also asked Basit to ensure that no high commission member behaved in a manner incompatible with his or her diplomatic status.
Basit, though, accused India of violating the 1961-Vienna Convention by “detaining and manhandling” the high commission staffer. In a separate statement, the Pakistan foreign ministry accused India of trying to divert attention from “grave human rights violations” by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
Akhtar worked as an assistant to the trade counsellor in the high commission since September 1993. According to the MEA, Akhtar revealed that he joined the Baloch regiment of Pakistan army in 1997 and went on deputation with the ISI in 2013. He was posted to the Pakistan high commission in September 2013 where he was working as assistant to Farukh Habib, counsellor (trade),” the MEA said. Akhtar is accused of seeking information related to India’s military installations and Army deployment.