Ties between New Delhi and Islamabad dipped further Thursday when India declared a Pakistan High Commission staffer ‘persona non-grata’ for espionage and ordered him to leave the country with his family within 48 hours after Delhi Police said he had been caught with defence documents, including deployment details of the BSF along the border.
“Today morning, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar summoned Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit and informed him that India had intercepted an official of the Pakistan High Commission in pursuit of espionage and that he was being declared persona non-grata,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup told reporters.
“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,” Swarup said.
He rejected Pakistani allegations of “mishandling” 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 said 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 was posted in September that year to the Pakistan High Commission where he is presently working as assistant to Farukh Habib, Counsellor (Trade).
Rejecting the Pakistani claim that its High Commission “has always been working within the parameters of international law and diplomatic norms”, Swarup said there was no “rationale” behind the claim as Akhtar was caught “red-handed” committing an illegal act.
“We are happy that we nipped the ISI spy ring in the bud,” he said, adding that “denial that has come out from Pakistan is something which has by now become quite characteristic (of that country).”
Swarup said following intelligence inputs for the last six months relating to espionage involving vital installations of the Army and paramilitary forces, Akhtar was intercepted by Delhi Police on Wednesday while he was receiving documents from two persons.
Although initially Akhtar masqueraded as an Indian national and even produced a fake Aadhar card, he later admitted that he worked at the Pakistan High Commission and requested that the mission be informed of the developments.
Earlier, at a press conference, Delhi Police said acting on inputs, its crime branch took the staffer identified as Mehmood Akhtar into custody after he was found in possession of defence documents. Akhtar was released after questioning as he enjoys diplomatic immunity, police said.
The crime branch arrested two persons, Maulana Ramzan and Subhash Jangir of Rajasthan, for allegedly passing on sensitive information to Akhtar, police said. “They were in touch with the staff here at Pakistan High Commission and were providing sensitive information,” police said.
Ramzan and Jangir were produced in a city court which sent them to police custody for 12 days. Another spy, identified as Shoaib from Jodhpur, will be arrested soon for his involvement in the ring, police said.