New Delhi: India will pull out eight diplomats from its high commission in Pakistan after they were ‘outed’ in the Pakistani media, even as six Pakistani diplomats were withdrawn following the leaking of their expelled colleague’s testimony to Indian police.
The decimation of both embassies’ staff numbers is a direct consequence of Pakistani high commission employee Mehmood Akhtar being arrested and then expelled from India on espionage charges. In a tit-for-tat move, Pakistan also declared an Indian high commission official Surjeet Singh as persona-non-grata.
Reports from earlier this week referred to Akhtar’s testimony which was given during his interrogation at the police station in Delhi’s diplomatic enclave. The reports mentioned the names and designations of four Pakistani diplomatic personnel –commercial counsellor Syed Furrukh Habib and first secretaries Khadim Hussain, Mudassir Cheema and Shahid Iqbal – who were apparently part of a larger spy network operating in India.
Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, had reported on Tuesday that the Pakistani government was “considering” withdrawing those four diplomats.
By Wednesday, Pakistan had pulled out six of its diplomats, who left India by plane and road.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s media started to publish reports containing the names and photographs of Indian high commission officials who they claimed were intelligence officials working under diplomatic cover.
For example, Pakistani news channel Geo TV reported that commercial counsellor Rajesh Agnihotri and press counsellor Balbir Singh were officials from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB), respectively.
“Details of eight Indian diplomats have been put in the public domain by Pakistan, compromising their security,” said official sources.
With their names out, India has no choice but to remove the officials from Pakistan.
Earlier in the day, India had summoned the Pakistan deputy high commissioner to South Block to lodge a complaint regarding the civilian fatalities resulting from ceasefire violations at the border and the mutilation of the body of an Indian soldier by a “terrorist”.
In toto, both diplomatic missions would have pulled out 16 diplomatic personnel in a span of about a week.
India and Pakistan’s relationship has been in a downward spiral following the resurgence of violent clashes in Kashmir. Earlier this year, India blamed Pakistan for an attack on its army brigade headquarters at Uri, following which India conducted surgical strikes against terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Islamabad hotly disputed claims of cross-border intrusion by the Indian army, asserting that there was only a greater intensity of cross-border firing.