Spy games

The IB is the internal spying agency, focused on spying on Indians.

An Indian in Pakistan has been accused of being a spy from Research and Analysis Wing. Reports from Pakistan say that the man was caught after speaking to his family in Marathi over the cellphone. Calls from Pakistan to India are, of course, monitored and so the man was traced. He was also carrying his Indian passport. This seems like a very different sort of spy than the ones we see in movies, who carry fake passports and are highly trained. I will be very surprised if this individual turns out to be from R&AW.

This is because R&AW agents, just like CIA Mossad and ISI agents are usually posted in embassies, with diplomatic passports. I read somewhere that the current national security adviser was apparently in Pakistan on such a posting. However, so far as I know he was in the IB and not in R&AW.

The IB is the internal spying agency, focused on spying on Indians. If Ajit Doval was with IB, what was he doing in Pakistan? I am not sure, and much of the activities of the two spying agencies are known to us only through rumour and not fact. Sometimes even R&AW chiefs do not know what is going on inside R&AW. Ten years ago, Outlook reported that R&AW had a policy of not hiring Muslims. None of its 15,000 or so employees was Muslim.

When Reuters reported the story, it spoke to A.S. Dulat. The former R&AW chief said he “did not recall coming across any Muslims in the organisation”, adding that “if we do not have any Muslims obviously this is a handicap.” Another former R&AW chief Girish Chandra Saxena said, “The need for Muslim officers in intelligence-gathering is acute,” and “there are very few people who know Urdu or Arabic. The issue has to be addressed.”

As someone who has done track-two work, I have met some former ISI chiefs and one of them, Asad Durrani, I have known for some years now because we wrote for the same newspaper. My experience of the ISI came some time ago when I was visiting Harappa, which is a couple of hours’ drive from Lahore. I was there to see the Indus Valley Civilisation, which is beautifully preserved.

I first went there many years ago, and before I reached the ticket counter, the man had issued tickets for foreigners, which cost much more than those for locals. I asked him how he knew I was not a local and he said, “Yahan koi Pakistani nahin aate.”

This time, when I went to the ticket counter I was given locals’ ticket and I did not declare my Indian status. Inside the complex, a man in salwar kameez asked us where we had come from and we said, honestly, “Lahore”. He left. Our guide, who knew, then said that the ISI was keeping a record of all foreigners in the area. When we were exiting, the man again stopped us and asked us for the national identity cards that all Pakistanis carry. We were taken to the ISI office inside the complex. There our passport details were noted down and we were sent off after being scolded for being evasive.

I said earlier that R&AW agents usually travelled on diplomatic passports. My experience with R&AW is from October 2001, when I was in Afghanistan to cover the war. To reach there we had to go through Uzbekistan and Tajik-istan. In the hotel, I met two middle-aged Indians, in suits and tie. The rest of us were reporters, but these two were different.

When our convoy reached the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, our passports were checked by Russian soldiers. All the reporters went through but the Russians sent those two Indian men back to Dushanbe. I returned to the hotel two weeks later. I had fallen off a horse into a river and the visa stamps on my passport were smudged. This worried me. At the hotel, the taxi that was driving me to Uzbekistan broke down and I was standing with my backpack wondering what to do, when one of the two men asked where I was going. He offered me a lift.

At the border, I pulled out my passport to get it stamped while the men remained in the car. I began explaining my story but he took one look at the two men and waved me off. That is when I finally realised who the men were. I was ignorant, but Russian soldiers and Uzbek officers could pick out R&AW men at a glance.

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