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Why Kulbhushan Jadhav couldn't be a R&AW spy

By Aakar Patel
April 04, 2016 10:36 IST
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Kulbhushan Jadhav'He was carrying his Indian passport.'
'This seems a very different sort of spy than the ones we see in movies, who carry fake passports and are highly trained,' says Aakar Patel.

An Indian in Pakistan has been accused of being a spy from Research and Analysis Wing, referred to by its acronym, R&AW.

Reports from Pakistan say 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 and Mossad and ISI agents, are usually posted in embassies, with diplomatic passports. I read somewhere the current national security advisor was apparently in Pakistan on such a posting. However, so far as I know he was in the Intelligence Bureau and not R&AW.

The IB (it is also know by its short form) is the internal spying agency, focussed on spying on Indians. If you want to say it more politely, you could say spying on activities in India.

If Ajit Doval was 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 magazine 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' and 'If there are no Muslims, there must have been a reluctance to take them in. It is also not easy to find that many Muslims.'

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 have knowledge of Urdu or Arabic. The issue has to be addressed.'

If the need is acute and it is a handicap, then why not just hire them? I do not know.

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' tickets and I did not declare my Indian status. Inside the complex, a man in shalwar qameez 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 caught and taken to the ISI office, which was inside the complex. There our passport details were noted down and we were sent off after being scolded for being evasive. 'Don't you know how dangerous it is for foreigners?'

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 Tajikistan and wait in Dushanbe for the next convoy.

In the hotel, I met two middle aged Indian men, in suits and tie, who were at breakfast every morning and the bar in the evening. The rest of us were reporters from all over the world, but these two men 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, after my assignment ended. 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, who were still there, asked where I was going.

He offered me a lift (they were in a white Mercedes Benz). At the border, I pulled out my passport to get it stamped while the men remained in the car. I began explaining to the officer 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.

Aakar Patel is Executive Director, Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own.

  • You can read his earlier columns here.
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