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India and Pakistan are bracing for another showdown, this time over the expulsion of diplomats in the wake of an alleged spy ring that has led Delhi Police to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.
Before he was ordered out of the country by the Ministry of External Affairs, Pakistan High Commission staffer Mehmood Akhtar, in a videotaped statement to police, named four officials of the Pakistan mission — commercial counsellor Syed Farrukh Habib and first secretaries Khadim Hussain, Mudassir Cheema and Shahid Iqbal — as being part of the alleged spy ring.
On Tuesday, Pakistani daily Dawn reported that Islamabad was considering pulling out the four officials. “This is under consideration. A final decision will be taken shortly,” a source at the Pakistan Foreign Office was quoted saying by the Dawn.
In New Delhi, sources told The Indian Express that South Block was collecting information from the Ministry of Home Affairs and intelligence agencies. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, sources said, was in touch with his Home counterpart Rajiv Mehrishi on the matter.
“We are still weighing the pros and cons of these disclosures. A course of action will be taken in the next few days,” a top source said.
The Indian establishment expects Pakistan to hit back in the coming days by claiming that three-four Indian diplomats posted in that country were intelligence officials. “The gloves are off,” a source said.
The Pakistan High Commission, in the meantime, is learnt to have asked South Block to ensure security and safety of its diplomats and their families. “Such naming of diplomats in public, without proper investigation, jeopardises their safety and that of their families,” a Pakistan diplomat said.
South Block officials said tit-for-tat responses may lead to considerable reduction in the number of diplomats. “There are about 15 diplomats on both sides… if four are expelled from each side, that will hamper the functioning of the mission,” a source said.
While rules say a diplomat can be replaced immediately by another, it has always been a practical problem, given the nature of scrutiny in grant of visas to each other’s diplomats.
In February 2003, India and Pakistan expelled five diplomatic staffers each, including Deputy High Commissioners.