ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday busted a network of Indian spies ‘working under diplomatic cover’ in a move sure to exacerbate tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours that have been simmering for months.
Official documents seen by The Express Tribune reveal that at least eight staffers of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad had been identified as serving officers of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB).
Rajesh Kumar Agnihotri, who is posted as counsellor commercial, is RAW’s station chief in Pakistan, according to officials privy to details. Agnihotri’s mission was to disrupt the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), exploit sectarian rifts and handle splinter groups of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Another RAW officer Anurag Singh, officially designated as secretary commercial, was directly working under Angnihotri. Anurag was involved in creating controversies related to Pak-China trade as well as CPEC by reaching out to business communities in the country. He was also tasked with creating unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan, said officials.
Attache visa Amerdeep Singh Bhatti is also a RAW officer. His main activities were to exploit minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs and Ahmadis, to create trouble in Pakistan.
Similarly, RAW official Dharmendra Sodhi was working to cultivate the disgruntled elements in Balochistan. He was accused of facilitating disgruntled Baloch elements to visit India under fake medical visas.
Working as a staff member in the Indian High Commission, Vijay Kumar Verma was also identified as a RAW official, whose area of focus was Azad Jammu and Kashmir. His task was to create a propaganda network to malign the right to self-determination in Indian Occupied Kashmir, reads the classified document.
Madhavan Nanda Kumar, also identified as a RAW spy, was focused on spying on Balochistan-related matters.
The documents also claimed that Balbir Singh, the current spokesperson for the Indian diplomatic mission, was in reality an India IB officer. Balbir was working with Surjit Singh, who was declared as persona non grata by Pakistan last week.
Similarly, Jayabalan Senthil, who was working as assistant personnel welfare officer, was IB agent and involved in activities contrary to his diplomatic status.
There was no official announcement as yet about the controversy.
Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, declined to comment when asked whether the eight ‘diplomats’ would be withdrawn. But sources said New Delhi was likely to pull out these officials after their cover was blown.
Swarup also said six Pakistani diplomats had left the Indian capital on Wednesday but said they had not been expelled.
A senior Pakistani official blamed India for breaching the ‘understanding’ between the two countries regarding the diplomatic staff posted in each other’s countries.
The official explained that both sides knew that certain officials worked under cover and they did so with the full knowledge of the host country. But it was India which breached the understanding by blowing the cover of certain Pakistani staffers working in the High Commission in New Delhi.
It all started on October 27 when Indian police detained Pakistani High Commission staffer Mahmood Akhtar on charges of spying.
Akhtar was released because of diplomatic immunity but only after prolonged questioning for obtaining alleged defence-related material from two Indian nationals, who police there claimed were on his payroll.
He was working as visa officer at the Pakistan High Commission for over two and a half years but India claimed he was an ISI official. Akhtar was declared persona non grata and hence expelled by India.
Indian media then identified six more Pakistani staff members working in the High Commission as part of Akhtar’s network.
Once their names were made public, Pakistan had to pull them out due to security reasons. There were reports that India might implicate more Pakistani officials working in the High Commission on charges of espionage.
The diplomatic spat comes after months of sharply deteriorating relations that began with civil unrest in IOK and Pakistan’s global lobbying against New Delhi’s crackdown on the Kashmiri activists. Pakistan believes India is ratcheting up tensions with an aim to divert the global attention from the current uprising in Kashmir.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2016.