Two Pakistani officials expelled by India over spying allegations returned home Monday, an embassy spokesman said, as the nuclear-armed rivals wrangled over the claims.
The Indian government said Sunday that the two had been detained for “indulging in espionage activities”, and given 24 hours to leave the country.
India expels Pakistani officials; claims they were spying
The pair returned to Pakistan via the Wagah border crossing, which has been closed for several weeks because of the coronavirus lockdown, a Pakistan embassy spokesman told AFP.
Indian media said the two officials — both working in the embassy visa department — had been detained Sunday while trying to obtain information on an Indian security establishment.
In a statement late Monday, New Delhi police said one of the men had allegedly posed as the brother of a journalist looking to gain information about Indian Railways, one of the world’s largest train networks.
The man was instead trying to procure information about the “movement of (Indian) Army units and hardware” on trains, Delhi Police claimed.
“The government has declared both these officials persona non grata for indulging in activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The expulsions came weeks after an Indian national was set to stand trial in Germany, accused of spying on Sikh and Kashmiri communities for New Delhi’s secret service.
Rising tensions between India and Pakistan due to Kashmir issue
The move came amid heightened tensions between the foes over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which was split between them in 1947 when they gained independence from Britain.
Kashmir has become a bigger source of tension between the two powers since India last August scrapped the Muslim-majority region’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a major security clampdown.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir.
Shelling and the exchange of fire across their Kashmir demarcation line is a near-daily occurrence, and in February 2019 they conducted tit-for-tat airstrikes.
On Monday in Indian-occupied Kashmir, police officer Chandan Kohli said three men were killed after a brief shootout near the de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC).
A military source said the men were killed just after crossing the LoC.
New Delhi regularly accuses arch-rival Pakistan of arming and sending rebels across the heavily militarised border. Islamabad denies the claims.
Rebel groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have battled for decades for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan.
Since 1989 the fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.
India has more than 500,000 troops in Kashmir, where clashes are a common occurrence but last month extended into the regional capital Srinagar.
#300DaysOfKashmirSiege Barricades have been erected on all entry and exit points in Srinagar and other cities. More than 45,000 additional Indian paramilitary troops were airlifted this week to Kashmir. @Pak_Guardian
— KashmirKiAwaz (@KashmiriAwaz) May 30, 2020
Pakistan condemns India’s expulsion of Pakistani officials
Pakistan had summoned India’s charge d’affaires to express its “condemnation” of the expulsion order.
The foreign ministry called the allegations “baseless” and said Delhi’s action was a “clear violation” of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.
“The Indian action is clearly aimed at shrinking diplomatic space for the working of Pakistan High Commission”, the Foreign Office noted.
“The Indian attempts to escalate the tensions will not succeed in diverting attention either from the ongoing internal and external issues faced by the BJP government or from the worsening situation and gross human rights violations being perpetrated by the Indian occupation forces in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K)” concluded the Foreign Office.
In response, Pakistan recalled its ambassador from Delhi and sent back the Indian envoy.
India’s paranoia about Pakistan’s intentions
Recently, a pigeon, perhaps unaware of the de facto border, entered the airspace of Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan, causing the Indian media to scream “Spy” because it had been marked with dye and had a ring attached to its legs – a common way for owners to identify their pigeons, and one used the world over. The pigeon was captured by residents who claim it was carrying a coded message.
As of the time of writing, the whereabouts of the pigeon remains unclear. However, a Pakistani villager claims ownership of the alleged feathered James Bond and has spoken to Pakistani newspaper Dawn, appealing to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return the bird to him, saying it was a symbol of peace, not a spy.
Pakistani villager urges India to return 'spy' pigeon https://t.co/9MRq107n38
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) May 27, 2020
Thus, India’s expulsion of Pakistani officers is no surprise. With the constant decline in the relations between both countries, coupled with a rising sense of paranoia and Islamophobia in India, diplomatic ties were bound to suffer.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk