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Pakistan High Commission staffer expelled for espionage

Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit (right) comes out of the Ministry of External Affairs in South Block, New Delhi, after being summoned by it on Thursday. Photo V. Sudershan  

A day after a Pakistan High Commission (PHC) staffer, Mehmood Akhtar, was allegedly caught receiving defence-related information from two Indian “spies” on Wednesday, he was declared persona non grata and asked to leave India by Saturday.

In a tit-for-tat response, Pakistan on late Thursday evening expelled an official posted in the High Commission of India in Islamabad. “The Foreign Secretary summoned the Indian High Commissioner today (27 October 2016) and conveyed the decision of the Government of Pakistan to declare Mr Surjeet Singh, an official of the Indian High Commission, as persona non grata,” said a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) of Pakistan.

The declaration came even as Indian sources indicated that they were preparing for a retaliatory response from Islamabad after Pakistani MoFA issued a strongly worded press release blaming New Delhi for a violation of the Vienna Convention over the expulsion of Mr. Akhtar. The Pakistani press release also accused Mr Singh of violating the Geneva Convention.

“The Indian High Commissioner has been asked to make urgent arrangements for Surjeet Singh and his family to leave Pakistan by 29 October 2016.”

ISI agent

Mr. Akhtar has been accused of working as an ISI agent. The police said they believed more PHC staffers were involved in the “espionage racket.” MEA spokesperson, Vikas Swaroop, said Mr. Akhtar was working with the trade section of the PHC. The Delhi police, however, claimed that he was in the visa section of the High Commission.

Mr. Akhtar belongs to the Baloch regiment of Pakistani Army and was on deputation to the intelligence agency ISI since 2013.

Spy racked two years old, says police

Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ravindar Yadav, who briefed the media said, the espionage racket dated back at least two-and-a-half years. A crime branch team, lead by DCP Bhisham Singh had been investigating it for six months. On Tuesday “concrete input” reached the team that some “spies” had arrived at Delhi from Rajasthan. And that they would be meeting their “Pakistani contact” near the Delhi Zoological Garden between 9 and 10 a.m. on Wednesday. A trap was laid, three men nabbed, and defence-related documents recovered from them at 10.40 a.m., police claimed.

A press release subsequently clarified the men were nabbed at the main gate of the zoo that is now closed to the public because of the bird flu outbreak.

The men were brought to the crime branch’s inter-state cell office at Chanakyapuri police station where they were interrogated. Asked about his identity, Mr. Akhtar allegedly produced an Aadhar card that showed him as Mehboob Rajput, a resident of Chandni Chowk. The identity card, police claimed, was either forged or obtained on fake documents.

“But when Akhtar was faced with an arrest, he revealed he was a PHC staffer and sought diplomatic immunity. We immediately contacted the MEA, which in turn got in touch with the PHC officials,” said Mr. Yadav. Following this some PHC officials came to the police station and confirmed that Mr Akhtar worked there. He was then let off.

Havildar Akhtar was handpicked by ISI for spying

Three years ago, when Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was scouting for spies to be deployed in India, Mehmood Akhtar was a hawaldar with the 40 Baloch Regiment, police said.

He was allegedly the best among several prospective ‘spies’ the ISI short-listed at the time. “He was selected as an ISI agent after a rigorous test in January 2013,” said Ravindra Yadav, Joint CP (Crime). In the mid-2014, he was sent to the Pakistan High Commission (PHC) in Delhi. Here, he was with the visa desk.

“In this particular espionage module, Akhtar was ISI’s main man in India. He was to scout for potential spies among Indians applying for a Pakistan visa,” said Mr. Yadav. This claim, however, is at variance with the Ministry of External Affairs’ version, which said Akhtar was working in the trade section of the PHC.

Other recruits

Akhtar allegedly travelled to States such like Rajasthan and Gujarat looking for potential spies. “There are many more spies working for Akhtar. We are on their trail,” said the officer.

One of his key men was Shoaib, a visa agent in Jodhpur. “Akhtar had approached Shoaib as he knew he was in touch with several persons seeking visas to Pakistan. He passed on the baton of scouting for spies to Shoaib, who was nabbed by the Rajasthan Police late on Thursday afternoon and is being brought to Delhi for interrogation.

Akhtar mostly chose tourist spots in the national capital to meet his Indian ‘spies’, collect defence-related documents from them and make the payments.

He organised at least one such meeting with each of his ‘spies’ every month, claimed the police. Akhtar’s ‘spies’ were allegedly tasked with getting in touch with serving as well as retired personnel from the Army and the Border Security Force (BSF) for information on subjects like deployment of forces along the border, the weak points, security loopholes and lists of transferred officers.

False identity

“The aim was to find points through which terrorists could infiltrate into India and carry out Pathankot-like attacks,” alleged a senior investigator.

Akhtar and his alleged spies never discussed business on phone, police said, adding that they had certain code words about where and when to meet. For these purposes, Akhtar had assumed an Indian identity, the police alleged. Though his Aadhar card showed him as Mehboob Rajput of Chandni Chowk, the police have not been able to get further details on it and think the card is fake.

“We reached out to the Aadhar card-issuing authorities but they have been reluctant to share data about the person,” claimed an investigator.

(With inputs from PTI)




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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 4:53:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Pakistan-High-Commission-staffer-expelled-for-espionage/article16083789.ece

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