New Delhi/Islamabad: India-Pakistan relations tumbled to a new low as Islamabad on Thursday named eight Indian High Commission officials for alleged spying, which India rejected as "baseless and unsubstantiated" and as part of the neighbours's "tit for tat" move after a Pakistani official was caught "red-handed" for spying.
As the Pakistani media flashed the names and photographs of the eight Indian officials in Islamabad, which the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria confirmed later, in New Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said India "protests strongly" against Islamabad's move to publicly name and put up photographs of the officials, four of who are diplomatic passport holders.
"This is against basic norms of diplomatic practice and courtesy," he said.
Rejecting Pakistan's allegations of the men as belonging to Indian intelligence agencies RAW and IB, Swarup said: "We completely reject the baseless and unsubstantiated allegations made by Pakistan against certain officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. The government categorically denies those allegations."
He also said that Mehmood Akhtar, the Pakistan High Commission official who was detained last week for allegedly running a spy network as part of the Inter Services Intelligence, has revealed "sensitive information" about "anti-India activities" being carried out with connivance of Pakistan High Commission officials.
Swarup said it was "regrettable" that Pakistani authorities chose to level these allegations against the Indians after deciding to recall, "on their own", six officials of the Pakistan High Commission.
He said some of them "may have been named" by Akhtar, who was caught "red handed last week while indulging in anti-India activities".
Asked about revelations made by Akhtar, Swarup said he has "revealed to us rather sensitive information about the kind of anti-India activities that were going on in this country with the connivance of officials of the Pakistan High Commission and our security agencies are currently seized of the matter and we will get to the bottom of it".
The spokesperson totally rejected the allegations against the Indian officials by Islamabad.
"The allegations against the Indian officials represent an after-thought and a crude attempt to target these officials for no fault of theirs," he said.
"We regard this as an unfortunate incident. Pakistan is resorting to tit for tat without any real case against these officials, and we hope that such incidents do not recur in the future."
Asked if the eight officials will be brought back, Swarup said the Indian government will take a decision soon "keeping their safety in mind".
"A decision will be taken by government keeping their safety in mind. It is a procedural issue, and a decision will be taken soon," he said.
The spokesperson added that the officials there were working on promoting peace between India and Pakistan.
"We expect the Pakistan government to take all steps to ensure the safety of these officials," Swarup said.
Pakistan said the eight Indian High Commission officials were involved in "coordinating terrorist and subversive activities in Pakistan", a day after six Pakistani officials of the high commission in New Delhi were called back.
Zakaria, in his weekly press briefing, named the Indian officials as Rajesh Kumar Agnihotri, Commerical Counsellor "and RAW station chief", Anurag Singh, First Commercial Secretary, Amardeep Singh Bhatti, Attache Visa, Dharmendra Sodhi, staff member, Vijay Kumar Verma, staff, Madhavan Nanda Kumar, staff, and "suspected IB operatives", Balbir Singh, First Secretary - Press and Information and "IB station chief", Jayabalan Senthil, Assistant Personnel Welfare Officer.
"All these eight officials were involved in espionage, subversion and supporting of terrorist activities," he said.
The FO spokesman also said that the Indian diplomatic staff "also handled Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) factions".
Last week, Pakistan had declared Indian High Commission official Surjeet Singh persona non grata and given him 48 hours to leave the country. Singh's expulsion followed within hours of Mehboob Akhtar's expulsion.
In March, Pakistan said it had arrested a "serving Indian naval intelligence officer" Kulbhushan Jadhav in Balochistan for allegedly working for RAW. India however said that he was no longer in service.
Swarup termed the support to terror by Pakistan as the root cause of problems between the two nations.
"Root cause of problem between India and Pakistan is Pakistan's support to cross border terrorism and its promotion as an element of state policy.
"It is important for Pakistan to desist from those policies which are failed policies which have led to its diplomatic isolation... Unless that happens relationship between two countries will continue to remain like this," he said.