Indo-Pak spy war turns nasty

India and Pakistan have taken their diplomatic offensive to a new level with the expulsion of several staff members of their respective High Commissions over spying charges. It looks the arch enemies have resorted to a two-pronged strategy to up the ante. One is on the military front and the other is on diplomatic side. As the border skirmishes continue unabated, with both sides blaming each other for escalation of tensions, alleged spies in the diplomatic missions in New Delhi and Islamabad are being packed off.

It all started with Delhi police claiming to have busted a spy racket involving a staff member of the Pakistan High Commission, Mehmood Akhtar. He was found to be in possession of defence-related documents which were given by a Rajasthan duo, Maulana Ramzan and Subhash Jangir. After questioning, Akhtar was released as he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. But he was declared persona non grata and given 48 hours to leave India.

Within hours of his expulsion, Pakistan asked an Indian High Commission official Surjit Singh to leave the country within two days on similar charges India had leveled against the Pak mission official. Though it was seen as a tit-for-tat action, it has been a normal practice throughout the world that if one country expels a diplomat for any reason, his government reciprocates without brooking any delay. In other words, they strive to be on a level-playing ground.  But in this case, while India claimed to have caught Akhtar red-handed and the arrested duo had confessed to being collaborators and named more Pak officials in the High Commission as members of the spying racket, Pakistan did not produce any such evidence while expelling Surjit Singh.

However, the spy saga has not ended with a single throw-out on each side. Following the revelations of more spies in the Pak mission in Delhi by the arrested Indian moles, Islamabad has recalled six of its High Commission staff fearing their expulsion. In every respect, it’s a pre-emptive move and leaked out names of eight Indian officials to the media alleging they are Indian undercover agents. The accusations against them range from espionage, agents of Indian intelligence agencies to being abetting unrest and encouraging terrorism in the country.

In fact, Pakistan has gone one step ahead by giving the names of Indian officials to the media. It’s a deliberate move to name and shame them in public eyes. On Thursday, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper published the names of Indian officials allegedly involved in ‘nefarious activities.’  The staffers names as provided by the Foreign Office are:  Commercial Counsellor Rajesh Kumar Agnihotri; First Secretary, Press and Culture Balbir Singh; First Secretary, Commercial Anurag Singh; Visa Attache Amardeep Singh Bhatti; Visa Assistants Dharmedra, Vijay Kumar Verma and Madhavan Nanda Kumar; and Assistant, Personnel Welfare Office Jayabalan Senthil.

Foreign Office Spokesman Nafees Zakaria during a weekly press briefing in Islamabad said, “As you are aware, a number of Indian diplomats and staff belonging to Indian intelligence agencies RAW and IB have been found involved in coordinating terrorist and subversive activities in Pakistan under the garb of diplomatic assignments.”

Zakaria provided details of the activities of the ‘undercover agents’, alleging that the suspected RAW and IB operatives handled Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) factions, fueled sectarianism in Pakistan and created unrest in Balochistan, Sindh, and Gilgit-Balistan.

The Foreign Office, in its press briefing, also leveled dozens of charges against each Indian diplomatic staff member dubbed an undercover agent and presented Pakistan as a saint and India the worst sinner.

Obviously, Islamabad has pushed India to a corner to act by recalling the so-called undercover agents. Has it scored a few brownie points? We will know from India’s response.

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