India has declared a Pakistani diplomat persona non grata for “espionage activities” and said it will expel him from the country, as tensions are already running high between New Delhi and Islamabad.
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar summoned Abdul Basit, the Pakistani high commissioner to New Delhi, on Thursday morning to inform him of the decision to expel the staffer, who has been identified as Mehmood Akhtar, a visa official at the Pakistani mission.
Akhtar had briefly been held in Indian custody a day earlier but had been let off due to his diplomatic immunity, according to reports.
The Pakistani “staffer has been declared persona non grata for espionage activities,” Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Vikas Swarup added on Twitter on Thursday.
According to a report by The Times of India, the 35-year-old Akhtar had been found in possession of “highly classified army-related documents” in the Indian capital, New Delhi.
Ravindra Yadav, Delhi’s police crime commissioner, in a press conference also confirmed the report, adding that the visa official had been arrested on Wednesday with documents included information on deployment of India’s border security forces.
Basit filed a “strong protest” with the Indian Foreign Ministry over the detention of Akhtar, saying it violated diplomatic conventions.
“Pakistan never engages in activity that is incompatible with its diplomatic status,” he was quoted as saying by an unnamed Pakistani diplomatic source, who spoke to AFP.
Meanwhile, Indian security forces arrested two men from the country’s Rajasthan Province, identified as Maulana Ramzan and Subhash Jangir, who had allegedly handed over the sensitive documents to Akhtar.
Relations between India and Pakistan have been further strained in recent months, with India blaming Pakistan for a raid on an army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir in September that killed 19 soldiers. New Delhi responded with what it called “surgical strikes,” infuriating Islamabad.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947.
They have fought four wars with one another, three of which have been over Kashmir.
India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire in Kashmir on November 26, 2003, and launched a peace process the following year. Since then, there have been sporadic clashes, with the two sides trading accusations of violating the ceasefire along their de facto border.