Pakistan releases Indian embassy staff detained over alleged hit-and-run incident

Police patrol in relation to the coronavirus pandemic in Islamabad, Pakistan in April 2020.

Islamabad (CNN)Two employees at India's embassy to Pakistan have been released after they were detained in relation to an alleged hit-and-run incident in the capital Islamabad, an incident that sparked a heated back-and-forth between the two countries.

Alarm was raised Monday when the Times of India reported that two diplomatic staffers were "missing in Pakistan," with a suggestion the case was related to the recent expulsion by New Delhi of Pakistan officials accused of espionage.
According to sources in Pakistan familiar with the matter, the staff members were speeding, crashed into a pedestrian who was injured, and then attempted to flee.
India claimed on Tuesday that Pakistani authorities had abducted and tortured the staffers, which Pakistan strongly denied.
    A first information police report obtained by CNN stated the two men were arrested on grounds of "reckless and rash driving."
    The sources specified the two were staff members at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, not diplomats. The source added that the two men have been released at the "special request of the Pakistan Foreign Ministry," and were handed over to a senior official at the Indian High Commission because they still fall under diplomatic immunity.
    India summoned Pakistan's envoy in New Delhi to protest the arrests, and the two men were released later on Monday.
    According to Pakistan's Geo.tv, the men were arrested after a pedestrian was struck by a BMW on Embassy Road at around 8 a.m. Monday. They tried to flee, but the car was stopped by a huge crowd of people, who handed the men over to police.
    After they were arrested, police discovered the men held diplomatic immunity.
    A man sweeps in front of the main gate of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi on June 1, 2020.
    Rhetoric around the affair escalated on Tuesday when an Indian Foreign Ministry statement called the events a "premeditated, grave and provocative action" on the part of the Pakistani authorities, and said this was "preceded by intensified surveillance, harassment and intimidation of High Commission personnel over the past several days."
    The ministry accused Pakistani agencies of having "forcibly abducted" the pair and keeping them "in illegal custody for more than 10 hours." The two staffers were subjected to "interrogation, torture and physical assault resulting in grievous injuries" while "the vehicle of the High Commission, in which they were traveling, was extensively damaged," it alleged.
    Pakistan responded later Tuesday, denying the accusations. "Pakistan categorically rejects the irresponsible statement and baseless allegations made by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in the matter relating to the involvement of Indian High Commission's officials in 'hit-and-run' incident and possession of fake currency," a government statement read.
    It called India's version of events "a reprehensible attempt to distort facts and deny the culpability of these officials in criminal offences," and added that fake currency had allegedly been recovered from the two men.

    Growing tensions

    The incident comes at a time of high tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
    Last month, India expelled two Pakistani diplomats accused of spying and conducting "anti-India activities." Islamabad denounced the move and the "false and unsubstantiated charges," and claimed the two employees had been subject to "torture."
    Pakistan's foreign ministry said the decision to declare the two persona non grata was "accompanied by a negative pre-planned and orchestrated media campaign, which is a part of persistent anti-Pakistan propaganda."
    It said the Indian envoy was summoned and issued a demarche of its own, condemning the "baseless Indian allegations."
    Tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats between India and Pakistan are common, particularly when tensions over the disputed region of Kashmir are high, or when there are military operations or militant attacks.
    In August last year, the Indian government stripped Kashmir of its autonomy and special status, prompting Pakistan to downgrade diplomatic relations and suspend bilateral trade with India.
    The two countries have had a long-running dispute over Kashmir for more than 70 years.
    On Monday, Pakistan sought to frame the move against the High Commission officials as an attempt on India's part to divert attention away from domestic political issues and the situation in Kashmir.
      Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, on Sunday linked the issue to India's ongoing border dispute with China, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of "behaving like an expansionist nation."
      "It would serve PM Modi's government and 'neighborhood first' policy well to realize India's neighbors pose far less of a problem than their own domestic inadequacies, failures and fascism," he wrote on Twitter.