Delhi: India on Thursday declared a Pakistan High Commission staffer 'persona non-grata' after he was caught receiving secret information about Indian military deployments from two Indians who were arrested.
A third accomplice was caught later.
What MEA said:
"Today morning Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar summoned the Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit and informed him that India had intercepted an official of the Pakistan High Commission in the pursuit of espionage and that he was being declared persona non-grata," Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
"The Pakistan High Commission has been informed that Mehmood Akhtar and his family must return to Pakistan by October 29. The Foreign Secretary also strongly conveyed to the Pak High Commissioner that the Pak High Commission must ensure that none of its members indulge in activities inimical to India, or behave in a manner that is incompatible with their diplomatic status," Swarup said.
Swarup said Akhtar told the police that he had joined the Baloch Regiment of the Pakistan Army in 1997 and came on deputation to the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) in 2013 and was posted in September 2013 to the Pakistan High Commission where he is presently working as Assistant to Farukh Habib, Counsellor (Trade).
Asserting that terror has become the 'central motive' in India's interactions with Pakistan, Swarup said it was important that Pakistan takes action to honour various commitments it has made, including at the highest level, that it will dismantle the terror infrastructure and will not allow its soil to be used for such activities against any country, including India.
"The terrorist attack in Uri and continuing attacks with repeated frequency in parts of Jammu and Kashmir are being carried out with the support of Pakistan. It is a matter of great concern that instead of taking action against the cancer, Pakistan takes shelter under denial and abjuration. LeT, JeM are active under various aegis and find support from state organs of Pakistan," Swarup said.
Press briefing by police:
Akhtar was detained by the police but later released after questioning as he enjoys diplomatic immunity.
"The accused were involved in espionage activities for over a year-and-a-half. We were watching their activities for past six months. On a specific input, they were held yesterday. Akhtar is a kingpin of the spy ring," Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) RS Yadav told a press conference.
He said Akhtar had forged Aadhaar card and used to obtain information from his accomplices paying hefty amount to them.
Akhtar initially showed an Aadhar card in the name of Mehboob Rajput.
"He claimed to be a resident of Chandni Chowk but after sustained interrogation, he revealed his real name Mehmood Akhtar," said Yadav.
He was carrying a forged Aadhar card to assume an Indian identity.
"He has got diplomatic immunity since he is posted in the Pakistan High Commission (PHC) of Delhi. This was verified through MEA and after confirmation and as per the due procedures, he was handed over to the PHC diplomats in presence of MEA representative," Yadav said.
The officer said the honey trap angle was also being explored.
"From initial investigation, it has been revealed that some girls were exploited after being promised good money and were used to lure men into the module. We are investigating this aspect," he added.
The other three arrested are Maulana Ramzan, Subhash Jangir and Shoaib (residents of Rajasthan).
More from Pak mission may be involved in spy racket: Sleuths
Meanwhile, investigators probing the case suspect more people from the mission may be involved in the espionage ring.
Sources in Delhi Police also did not rule out possible involvement of some BSF personnel in the racket as they believe that Akhtar and his accomplices could not have got hold of deployment details unless somebody in BSF was leaking them, as per PTI.
On possible involvement of BSF personnel, they said, "The documents that were recovered from them couldn't have been procured without the help of someone privy to such sensitive information. We are suspecting that they were aided by some BSF personnel who leaked the information and documents to them. We are investigating that aspect. We have identified some of the officers involved and we will be conducting a raid soon."
Pakistan denies espionage charges
On the other hand, Pakistan denied the espionage charges as "false and unsubstantiated", alleging that Indian police "manhandled" Akhtar.
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry said the diplomat was detained for three hours before he was returned to the mission.
"We condemn the detention and manhandling of our diplomatic official," a statement said.
"This act clearly reflects Indian actions to shrink diplomatic space for the working of the Pakistan High Commission," the statement.
It noted that Akhtar's detention violated the Vienna Convention.
However, Swarup rejected Pakistani allegations and said that he was treated with "utmost courtesy".
"When he was handed over to the Pakistan High Commission in the presence of a ministry official, Akhtar himself said he was treated well," the MEA spokesperson added.
(With Agency inputs)