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India, Pak diplomats face the heat

India, Pak diplomats face the heat

Pakistan expelled a senior Indian diplomat claiming he has been caught red-handed with sensitive documents.

New Delhi/Islamabad: In further downturn in bilateral ties, India and Pakistan on Saturday expelled each other's diplomat in a tit for tat action after Islamabad handcuffed and detained a senior Indian High Commission official and asked him to leave the country by Monday.

Retaliating swiftly to the "outrageous treatment" meted out to Deepak Kaul, Counsellor (visa), by the Pakistani authorities, India declared Syed Muhammad Rafique Ahmed, Counsellor (political) at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, persona non grata and asked him to leave the country within 48 hours.

Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner Afra Siab was summoned to the External Affairs Ministry and Joint Secretary Dilip Sinha lodged a strong protest against the "blatant violation" of diplomatic norms.

"Such action could not but undermine the bilateral relations between the two countries," a statement issued by the MEA said.

It categorically rejected Pakistan's charge that Kaul was engaged in activities incompatible with his diplomatic status, a euphemism for spying, and denied that sensitive documents were handed over to him by a "so called contact".

A group of about eight to nine people pounced on Kaul when he was having tea at a kiosk on Islamabad-Lahore Highway at 0730 hrs IST while on his way to Wagah border to receive his family, officials at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad said.

"He was stopped by Pakistani security agencies and taken, hooded and handcuffed to some unidentified location where he was interrogated intermittently for about five hours," MEA spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

Kaul was later handed over to Indian diplomats who were summoned to the Pakistan Foreign Office.

This is the first incident of reciprocal expulsion of senior diplomats by the two countries since the peace process began three years ago.

"We have evidence of his undesirable activities," Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam claimed without elaborating.

Rejecting Pakistan's allegation that Kaul was involved in activities incompatible with his diplomatic status, Sarna said the documents that Pakistan claimed to have recovered from him "must have obviously been planted on him in order to falsely implicate him".

He insisted that the officer was "not in possession of any sensitive documents allegedly handed over to him by a so-called contact".

New Delhi said the Pakistani action was in "blatant violation of the Vienna Convention as well as the Code of Conduct for Treatment of Diplomatic/Consular Personnel in India and Pakistan, 1992.

Sarna said Kaul is safe and the Indian High Commission is arranging for his return to India by Monday.

Ahmed was declared persona non grata has he was found involved in "activities incompatible with his diplomatic status", Sarna said, adding he has been asked to leave by Monday.

The last such incident of expulsion of diplomats between the two countries was in February 2003 when India sent home Pakistan's then Charge D'Affairs Jalil Abbas Jilani and four other diplomats after allegedly finding them involved in financing separatists in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Pakistan also retaliated by expelling the same number of Indian diplomats.

Few months ago both countries expelled a staff each without making it public.

A Pakistan official attached to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi was expelled following which a staff from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad was declared persona non grata with neither country publicising the incident.

Asked what warranted Pakistani authorities to take Kaul into custody, Aslam said he was caught "red-handed for indulging in activities not compatible with his diplomatic status".

Activities not compatible with his diplomatic status are a euphemism used for spying.

The Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson denied that he was handcuffed, blindfolded or manhandled. "We don't handcuff diplomats."

"We wanted him to be withdrawn quietly" but since the Indian High Commission disclosed this to the media "I am also confirming it."

Rejecting Aslam's claim, Sarna said the information about Kaul's arrest first came out on Pakistan's Geo TV and "it was based on detailed briefing by Pakistan intelligence sources."

The Composite Dialogue Process between the two countries has already been discontinued in the wake of July 11 Mumbai train blasts as Indian security agencies have suspected the involvement of terrorist groups based in Pakistan.

Foreign Secretary-level talks, to be held in New Delhi on July 20, were indefinitely postponed following the blasts that killed about 200 people and injured over 700.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and his Pakistan counterpart Riaz Muhammad Khan met in Dhaka this week on the sidelines of SAARC Standing Committee meeting but they failed to decide on resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

first published:August 05, 2006, 17:15 IST