By Tommy Wilkes
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Thursday it would expel a Pakistani diplomat based in New Delhi who allegedly ran a spy ring that collected sensitive information about Indian security operations along its border.
The allegations come amid heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed arch-rivals over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Police in the capital said the diplomat was caught on Wednesday outside the gates to Delhi Zoo, where he had met two Indian associates whom police believe he had recruited to spy for him.
The Indians and the diplomat, who reportedly worked in Pakistan High Commission's visa section, were found with forged documents, defense-related maps, deployment charts and lists of officers working along India's border with Pakistan, police said in a statement.
"There was high probability that the information passed on by these anti-national elements to PIO (Pakistan intelligence operative) is being used against the national interests and could be highly detrimental for national security," the police said, adding they had been trying to break the spy ring for six months.
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said the man, who was released from custody under diplomatic immunity rules, must leave the country by Saturday.
Pakistan's High Commission in New Delhi rejected the allegations, saying in a statement it "never engages in any activity that is incompatible with its diplomatic status".
India's foreign ministry said the diplomat had been declared "persona non grata for espionage activities" and they had summoned the Pakistani high commissioner to make their case.
India and Pakistan have been at loggerheads since a group of gunmen killed 19 Indian soldiers in September at an army camp in Kashmir, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
India said it had sent special commandos into Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to kill militants in a retaliatory operation that sharply soured relations between the neighbors.
Pakistan says the operation never happened and accuses India of inventing it to distract attention from its crackdown on protests in the part of Kashmir it controls.
Indian and Pakistani troops face off against each other along the de facto border in divided Kashmir - a region they both claim in full but control in part - and have exchanged fire several times this week in cross-border shelling.
(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Tom Heneghan; Editing by Nick Macfie)