Hours before Pervez Musharraf was to appoint himself as President of Pakistan on June 20, 2001, PM AB Vajpayee rang him up to offer greetings

by Iftikhar Gilani

For any State, an elaborate information mechanism is essential to ensure stability and security of its borders and citizens. The spycraft, therefore, can be genuinely termed as one of oldest professions in the world. Kautilya, the guardian of the Mauryan Empire (c 317-185 BCE) insists on the use of an elaborate institution of espionage; spies, Kautilya insists, are the “eyes and ears of the king”. His sentiment was reflected in George Washington’s words: “The necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further urged… For upon secrecy, success depends in most enterprises of the kind, and for want of it, they are generally defeated, however, well planned...” In May 2012, the world learned of a real example of heroic espionage when British Intelligence officials foiled an al Qaeda plot to bring down a plane by having a suicide operative smuggle on board a non-metallic exploding device concealed beneath his clothing. It was later known that the plot failed because the operative chosen by the terrorist organisation was, in fact, an agent of the British or Saudi Intelligence Services.

Prime Ministers in India made it a routine to begin their day after taking briefing from Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chiefs. Even when they are on tour, senior sleuths accompany them for such briefing. While the IB is entrusted to garner intelligence from within India and also execute counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism tasks, the R&AW is dedicated to gathering foreign intelligence. Prime Minister AB Vajpayee used to take briefing while strolling in the laws of PM’s official residence. In addition, the PM unit of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) also prepares a comprehensive brief about news, articles, columns that may have appeared in the newspapers across the country for PM’s attention. Therefore, when the PM walks into his office to start his day, he is fully aware of developments that are likely to happen in the country and outside on that particular day. Hours before former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf was to appoint himself as President on June 20, 2001, Vajpayee rang him up to offer greetings. Till then Musharraf was Chief Executive and the file to declare him as president had just moved into his office. Whether it was a slip of tongue on behalf of Vajpayee or he intended to convey Musharraf the extent of intrusion of R&AW into his inner echelons is not known. Musharraf already had tasted the prowess of R&AW, when they were able to record his phone conversation with his Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Mohammed Aziz at the beginning of Kargil crises in 1999. It was later released by the External Affair Ministry to prove the culpability of Pakistan.

Over the years, spycraft has taken a new turn to ensure the economic stability of nations as well. In 1991, external merchandise trade comprised a mere 15.6 per cent of India’s GDP. But by 2015 it has grown to 49.3 per cent of the GDP, and most of it is being shipped through the South China Sea to the East. Former National Security Advisor (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon elaborates that this factor has made developments in the South China Sea more important for India unlike in the past. Any upheaval in the region can upset India’s economic stability. Therefore, it needs to keep ears on ground assiduously in this region.

The spy games between the then Soviet Union and the United States have provided scripts for many Hollywood films. Heroic spies lie and manipulate, they pretend to be what they are not, and they face terrible reprisals if detected. They perform their clandestine term of service among the worst of humanity in order to protect what is best, and do not expect to enjoy public applause when their espionage is complete. India’s current NSA Ajit Doval is himself counted as a legend in the secretive world of intelligence and covert operations. Retired as Director Intelligence Bureau in January 2005, he is supposed to have infiltrated the underground Mizo National Front, creating dissension within top commanders and later forcing its leader Laldenga to sign a peace accord with the Government of India in July 1986. In the late 1980s, when militancy was at its peak in Punjab, Doval is also learned to have walked into the besieged Golden Temple in Amritsar posing as a Pakistani agent months before the 1988 Operation BlackThunder and obtained vital intelligence on the militants holed up inside. As a young intelligence officer, he is also believed to have worked as an undercover agent for R&AW in Pakistan for seven years. His friends mentioned that on one such occasion at the dargah of Data Ganj Baksh, he was approached by an elderly man in the get-up of a Muslim scholar who asked him if he was Hindu. Taking him as some Pakistani intelligence sleuth Doval thought his game was up. He denied being Hindu. The gentleman took him to a corner and disclosed that he too was a Hindu and advised Doval to attend to his pierced ears, as they were revealing his identity. Doval later said he regretted not being able to help the aged Pakistani Hindu, who while pretending as a Muslim, saved him. Doval got a surgery done on his ear and stayed on in that country.

Ravindra Kaushik has been India’s another celebrated spy, whom the late PM Indira Gandhi had nicknamed “Black Tiger”. Enrolled as “Nabi Ahmad Shakir”, he had sneaked into the Pakistani Army and rose to the rank of Major. From 1979 to 1983, he passed on critical information to India. His game was up, however, when another R&AW agent “Inyat Masiha” who was sent to get in touch with him was arrested at the borders. He blew up Kaushik’s cover, who, like Kulbhushan Jadhav, was awarded death sentence in 1985. But it was turned to life sentence due to quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts launched by India. He later died in Multan jail after spending 16 years in prison.