Police detained a pigeon in India on Tuesday on suspicion of spying for the Pakistani state after officials discovered a coded ring attached to its foot, according to local media reports.
The pigeon, painted pink, was captured by villagers on Sunday in the Indian Manyari, located near the international border that separates India and the Pakistan-controlled area of Kashmir.
“The pigeon, suspected to be trained in Pakistan for spying, had a ring with alphabets and numbers written on it,” a police source told The Times of India. “Though birds have no boundaries, and many fly across international borders during migration, a coded ring tagged to the captured pigeon’s body is a cause for concern as migratory birds don’t have such things.”
It is not the first time birds have reportedly been used for espionage purposes across the disputed region. In 2016, police in Punjab state took in a bird found near the Pakistan border carrying a note with an alleged threat against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The year before, a bird was similarly captured a few miles from the border after being seen carrying a “stamped message” on its body.
A Pakistani villager and pigeon enthusiast claiming to be the bird’s owner has pleaded with both governments to ensure the bird’s safe return. Should they fail to do so, he announced his intention to stage a demonstration at the international border to attract the media’s attention.
“The one which crossed the border to India was my favorite pigeon but I am surprised to know the other day that my pigeon is being touted as a spy pigeon having some embedded code on his ring,” he told reporters, explaining that the code engraved on the ring was his cell number. “Now I am protesting from my village, If my pigeon is not returned then I will protest at India-Pak international border.”
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper identified the man’s name as Habibullah and reported him as the owner of a dozen pigeons. Habibullah contested that his pigeon is a “symbol of peace,” and India should “refrain from victimizing innocent birds.”
Tensions between the two countries are currently higher than ever, with the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan comparing Indian leader Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party to Nazi Germany amid ongoing territorial disputes and religious.
“The Hindutva Supremacist Modi Govt with its arrogant expansionist policies, akin to Nazi’s Lebensraum (Living Space), is becoming a threat to India’s neighbors,” he wrote on Twitter. “I have always maintained the fascist Modi [government] is not only a threat to India’s minorities by relegating them to 2nd class citizens’ status, but also a threat to regional peace.”