Pakistan High Commission’s ‘Terror Link’ Made India Downgrade Ties

India, on Tuesday, 23 June, decided to “reduce the staff strength in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi by 50 percent”, and “reciprocally reduce its own presence in Islamabad to the same proportion.”

The decision, which is to be implemented within the next one week, was conveyed to Pakistan’s Chargé d'affaires Syed Haider Shah, after he was summoned by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.

Diplomatic sources indicate that this would bring down the number to 55, from the mutually agreed-upon 110, in each of its missions in New Delhi as well as Islamabad.

Also Read: India Flags Harassment of Diplomats in Pakistan: Should Pak Worry?

When Was the Last Time That India Downgraded Diplomatic Ties With Pakistan?

The last time such a drastic diplomatic step was taken was after the Indian Parliament was attacked 19 years ago in December 2001. The then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh had informed the parliament that “regrettably, India’s serious concerns about all the ramifications of the 13 December attack on our Parliament have not been fully grasped in Pakistan.” “The depth of concern in India, the totality of rejection by the entire cross-section of our country’s opinion of Pakistan’s continued sponsorship of cross-border terrorism, and its promotion of terrorism as an instrument of state policy, has also not been sufficiently appreciated,” his statement had further read.

"“While their officials indulged in actions that are not in conformity with their privileged status in the High Commission, Pakistan has in parallel engaged in a sustained campaign to intimidate the officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad from carrying on their legitimate diplomatic functions.” " - India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement on 23 June evening

The move comes three weeks after India expelled two staff members of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, who were caught red-handed by the Delhi Police Special cell, along with intelligence agencies, for espionage.

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Pakistan High Commission’s ‘Collusion’ In Terror-Financing

While the immediate trigger may have been the abduction at gun point of two Indian High Commission officials, namely Mr Selvadhas Paul and Mr Dwimu Brahms, by Pakistan’s ISI, while they were on their way to the airport in Islamabad, and their subsequent ill-treatment, but diplomatic sources indicate that several repeated incidents since 2016 in violation of the Vienna Convention and bilateral agreements had led to this decision by India.

During its investigation of the Jammu & Kashmir terror-funding case, it was revealed to the National Investigation Agency, that the accused, Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali, was one of the main conduits through which the ISI officials and the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi used to route the funding to various Hurriyat leaders. During the searches conducted on Zahoor Watali’s premises, one document was recovered, in which the details of transactions of the funding to various Hurriyat leaders was mentioned, including the details of money received from the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

The document mentioned the name of Iqbal Cheema, senior diplomat at the Pakistan High Commission, who was later found to be the ISI (New Delhi) station chief.

As per the document on 15 March 2016, the HCP (High Commission of Pakistan) in New Delhi gave Rs 30 lakhs to Zahoor Ahmed Shah Watali, and on 20 October 2016, HCP in New Delhi gave Rs 40 lakh to him through Iqbal Cheema.

Also Read: Why Does Pakistan Not Crack Down On Its Own Religious Extremists?

New Delhi’s Bane: Terror Recruitment in J&K With Pak High Commission’s ‘Aid’

Mudassar Iqbal Cheema was posted in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi from 23 September 2015 to 2 November 2016 as First Secretary (Press). On 2 November 2016, Cheema along with 5 other officials of the Pakistan High Commission in India, were withdrawn by the Pakistan government of their own accord, without citing any particular reason.

During his stay in India, Mudassar Iqbal Cheema used to act as one of the main conduits who transferred funds to various Hurriyat leaders through Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali.

The real concern for New Delhi, however, remained the recruitment of youth in Kashmir for terror directly from Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

While the recruitment was underway over the last few years, it was busted only in 2017 after technical intelligence was red flagged by the then SSP, Baramulla, Imtiyaz Hussain, who is currently SSP, Security for the Kashmir Valley.

“Baramulla Police had busted a module of the Hizbul Mujahideen. This module had been luring young boys to join the terror ranks. One of the members of the module had gone to Pakistan and had obtained a visa from the Pakistan High Commission through the medium of some separatist organisation and wherein he has been trained in the Khalid ibn al-Walid terror training camp in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), two other members of the group have been financing. We have recovered one lakh rupees in currency also from them. We have been able to save 10 boys who were lured and incited by these elements to join Hizbul Mujahideen,” Imtiaz had told this journalist immediately after the module was busted in August 2017.

Also Read: Terror-Accused J&K Cop Gets Bail As Police File No Charge Sheet

J&K Police top brass has confirmed to The Quint that the module didn’t end at Baramulla and continues further in other districts.

“Four terrorists, namely Kaisar Manzoor Bhai from Bandipora, Javaid Rashid Bhat from Shopian, Qamar Ud din War from Sopore, and Sajad Hurra from Shopian – who were killed in various encounters during 2019-20 – had got valid visas from Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi for studies in Pakistan, but in fact, were given terror training,” J&K Police sources revealed. The Quint has also accessed the official security note indicating links to the neutralised terrorists with the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

Intelligence sources in New Delhi revealed that three terrorists killed in early April 2020, while trying to infiltrate India along the Line of Control in Kashmir, were actually Kashmiri youth given valid visas for studies in Pakistan, but had received terror training in PoK – and later got neutralised at the Line of Control.

Also Read: Treating J&K As Just A ‘Security Concern’ Delegitimises Military

Pakistani High Commission Conduits For Hawala Transactions & Terror-Funding

More recently, during the investigation of the case related to the apprehension of J&K Police Deputy SP Davinder Singh, along with Hizbul Commander Naveed Mustaq, Irfan Shafi Mir and Rafi Ahmad in January 2020, they revealed during interrogation that the accused persons were in constant touch with the Pakistan High Commission official Shafaqat, who was working as an assistant – but was, in reality, a conduit for hawala transactions and terror-financing.

While India's diplomats seem to be on the same page with security agencies and intelligence apparatus, top sources reveal that over 250 people in Kashmir, mostly youth, are unaccounted for as of now. Intelligence agencies fear that the 250 youths may have been lured and recruited by the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, and being used by the ISI in Pakistan for social media propaganda against India, while they receive terror-training.

(Aditya Raj Kaul has a decade’s worth of experience in covering conflict, internal security and foreign policy for various national media outlets. He tweets at @AdityaRajKaul. )

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