Pakistan names eight Indian diplomats accused of espionage, terror as tensions mount

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakariya speaks at a press briefing in Islamabad on Nov 3, 2016. At least eight diplomats and staff members of the Indian embassy were accused of carrying out activities incompatible with their assignment. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - Pakistan on Thursday (Nov 3) named eight Indian diplomats it accuses of espionage and terrorism, as tensions mounted between the nuclear-armed rivals following days of artillery duels and skirmishes on the border dividing the disputed Kashmir region.

The foreign ministry said six Indian embassy staff worked for New Delhi's Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) intelligence agency, while two were operatives for the Intelligence Bureau agency. Their names were leaked to Pakistani media overnight.

Mr Rajesh Kumar Agnihotri, a commercial counsellor, was named by the Pakistan foreign ministry as RAW's station chief in Islamabad. The foreign ministry statement gave an eight point list of the diplomats' espionage activities.

It accused them of fuelling instability in Pakistan's Sindh and Balochistan provinces, as well as sabotaging its most vital economic project, the US$46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), involving transport and energy infrastructure projects to link China with Pakistan's coast on Arabian Sea.

They were also accused the men of liaising with factions of the Pakistani Taleban and of working to damage Pakistan's relations with western neighbour Afghanistan.

It was not immediately clear if the diplomats would be expelled by Pakistan or withdrawn by India. India's foreign ministry was not immediately available to comment.

A spokesman is expected to brief reporters later on Thursday during his weekly press event.

Last week, India and Pakistan both expelled one diplomat from each other's embassies, accusing them of spying. The foreign ministry also said Pakistan has withdrawn six diplomats from its mission in India after Indian media reported that they had been involved in spying.

India summoned the Pakistani deputy high commissioner on Wednesday (Nov 2) to express its "grave concern and strong protest" over the denouncement of its diplomats in Islamabad.

On the same day, the press wing of Pakistan's military said India had violated a 2003 ceasefire in Kashmir 178 times this year, killing 19 civilians.

Artillery duels and skirmishing have intensified in recent days along the disputed frontier running through the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

In July, Indian-administered Kashmir erupted in protests that led to a crackdown by security forces after they killed a young separatist leader. And in September, gunmen killed 19 Indian soldiers at an army camp in an attack New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Later that month, India claimed to have carried out"surgical strikes" on the Pakistani side of the border, though Islamabad denounced it as a fabrication to distract attention from its continuing crackdown in Kashmir.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.