NEW DELHI, Dec 1, Reuter: Pakistan’s top-ranking military attaché and an assistant left India on Thursday ordered out after being accused of spying in an incident which will provide the first major diplomatic challenge for Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Brigadier Zahir Ul Islam Abbasi and his assistant Mohammad Ashraf Khatib were ordered to leave the day after India said they had been caught red-handed accepting sensitive defense document from an Indian contact.

An External Affairs Ministry spokesman told reporters the Pakistanis were detained on Wednesday evening at the Ranjit Hotel in Central Delhi and released as soon as their identities had been established.

He said they suffered minor injuries when they tried to resist arrest.

A senior Pakistani Diplomat dismissed the charges against the pair and disputed the Indian version of events.

“I can tell you truthfully they were really beaten to make them confess they were doing something guilty … there were bruises on their faces, lips and their bodies,” he said.

The diplomat said he hoped Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s first Visit to Islamabad scheduled for later this month would not be adversely affected by the incident.

Gandhi is to attend a summit meeting of the south Asian Association for regional cooperation in Islamabad near the end of the month.

The Indian spokesman said India had acted for security reasons and that these had taken priority over its goal of maintaining friendly relations with Pakistan.

The two countries have fought three wars since Independence from Britain in 1947 and India has been closely watching the outcome of recent elections in Pakistan.

The Pakistani diplomat said the incident would create problems for the new government led by Bhutto.

Abbasi returned to Pakistan on Thursday and said he had been framed by Indian authorities “in a concocted story,” the official app news agency reported.

It quoted him as telling reporters in Lahore that “the whole drama was staged” to sabotage a South Asian summit conference to be held in Islamabad later this month.

“It is a ploy to find an excuse for (Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi) to stay away from the meeting,” Abassi was quoted as saying.

Article extracted from this publication >> December 9, 1988