NEW DELHI, Dec 1, Reuter: India has accused Pakistan’s Senior Defense envoy in New Delhi of spying and is likely to expel him, creating a diplomatic row only four weeks before Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visits Islamabad.

A government spokesman said on Wednesday that Brigadier Zahir-Ul-Islam Abbasi had been caught red-handed with a sensitive defense document while meeting an Indian contact in a Delhi hotel.

Abbasi, who has been Pakistan’s senior military attaché in New Delhi for more than two years and the Indian who has not been identified were detained by a security officer. Abbasi was later released.

A Senior Government official, asked whether Abbasi would be expelled said: “That is certainly the normal course in these cases.”

He said the government would spell out later on Thursday what action it was taking.

Government spokesmen were unable to say whether the incident might affect plans for Gandhi to make his first official visit to Islamabad at the end of the month for the annual meeting of South Asian heads of state and government.

The Hindustan times noted on Thursday that Abbasi was the highest ranking Pakistani to have been detained in India and said the decision to move against him must have been taken at the highest level.

The newspaper predicted a tit-for-tat reprisal if Abbasi were expelled. Pakistan saying it had learned of the incident with shock, said it was awaiting word from its embassy in New Delhi taking any action.

Islamabad responded to the expulsion of attaché brigadier Zahir-UL-Islam Abbasi on Thursday by sending home two Indian envoys.

India gave Abbasi and his assistant, Mohammad Ashraf Khatib, 24 hours to leave the country after saying they had been caught red-handed buying secret defense document from an Indian contact.

”There are damage control measures going on both sides. They are not going to let it cloud relations,” said Bhabani Dasgupta of the Independent Centre for policy research.

“The Prime Minister is very keen on meeting Benazir Bhutto.” he added. “It is understood that (her taking over) creates an opportunity to improve Indo-Pakistan relations which should not be missed because of an incident like this.”

Gandhi, who sent a letter to Bhutto congratulating her and saying he hoped they could work together closely, is expected to meet the Moslem world’s first elected woman leader when he attends a South Asian summit in Islamabad later this month.

Article extracted from this publication >> December 9, 1988