Four Pakistan High Commission officials have reportedly left India. The names of the officers are commercial counselor Syed Furrukh Habib and first secretaries Khadim Hussain, Mudassir Cheema and Shahid Iqbal. Their names were made public after a recorded statement of the Pakistan High Commission staffer Mehmood Akhtar was released to the media. Top intelligence officers said that these officers were running an espionage network under the guise of doing other jobs.

Pakistan was considering pulling out four officers posted at its High Commission in New Delhi; days after India declared one Pakistani official persona non-grata for espionage activities.

Described as the kingpin of the spy ring, Mehmood Akhtar, 35, working in the visa section of the High Commission, were procuring critical details including those about deployment of BSF personnel along the Indo-Pak border from two other accomplices who were arrested in Delhi. He and his two other accomplices – Subhash Jangir and Maulana Ramzan were picked up from Delhi Zoo. However, Akhtar was released after around three hours of interrogation as he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. A personal assistant of India’s Samajwadi Party (SP) Rajya Sabha MP Munvvar Saleem was also arrested by the Delhi Police in connection with the espionage case.

In a retaliation move, Pakistan may also expel 2 Indian diplomats it thinks are ‘spies’. Pakistan’s Geo TV has reported that commercial counsellor Rajesh Agnihotri and press counsellor Balbir Singh may be expelled. Citing sources, the channel claimed that Agnihotri was directly linked with RAW while Singh was working for Intelligence Bureau and they were allegedly using their positions in Pakistan as cover to hide their real identities. Earlier, on October 27, both countries announced that one staffer each at their High Commissions in New Delhi and Islamabad ‘persona non-grata’ would be recalled in a retaliatory action.

There were no immediate comments from the Indian High Commission about the reports. While as per the rules, a diplomat can be replaced immediately by another, in Indo-Pak case, this has always been a practical problem.

It seems that India and Pakistan are bracing for another showdown, this time over the expulsion of diplomats.

by Ashwani Srivastava

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