India has expelled a staffer of the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi, accusing him of running a spy racket that accessed sensitive information about Indian security operations.
Islamabad rejected the allegations saying he had been detained on “false and unsubstantiated charges.”
The expulsion Thursday comes as relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors have hit a low, following a militant attack last month on an Indian army camp in Kashmir that killed 20 soldiers.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said the employee, Mehmod Akhtar, who worked in the Pakistani High Commission, had been detained outside the gates of Delhi Zoo, where he allegedly received documents pertaining to national security from two Indian associates.
Alleging that he was an agent of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, Swarup said, “We have definitely busted an espionage ring and the ringleader has been asked to return to Pakistan within 48 hours.”
Delhi Police earlier said the employee had been found with documents relating to the deployment of Indian troops on the Kashmir border. They said the official had been recruiting Indian nationals for the past two and a half years to spy for ISI.
Rejecting the Indian charges, in a statement, the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi said “we deplore the Indian action.” It said the Pakistan High Commission never engages in any activity that is incompatible with its diplomatic status.
The incident also comes as exchanges of artillery fire across the disputed Kashmir border continue to escalate with casualties reported on both sides. On Thursday, the Indian army said one solider was killed in the firing, the third to have died in the past week.
The Kashmir border became volatile after the Indian army said it conducted cross border raids to take out terrorist camps. Pakistan denied any such strikes took place and said India is trying to take away attention from a spike in unrest in Indian Kashmir.
Since the militant attack on the Indian army camp, New Delhi has led a campaign to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. It pulled out of a regional South Asian summit to be hosted by Pakistan last month, leading to its collapse.
But Thursday the Indian Foreign Ministry said New Delhi would welcome Pakistan’s participation in an upcoming conference on Afghanistan due to be held in the Indian city of Amritsar in December in which foreign ministers of 14 countries are scheduled to take part.
Pakistan’s adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaz Aziz, has said Islamabad would attend the meeting.
Saying they have no official confirmation from Islamabad, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Swarup said, “We certainly could welcome all countries to Amritsar because we are totally committed to peace and prosperity in Afghanistan ... so we would welcome of course participation from Pakistan.”